Westmeath manager Dessie Dolan.

Dolan pleased with players’ response ahead of Armagh game

Westmeath are facing into three very daunting tests in the All-Ireland SFC group stages - but team manager Dessie Dolan insists it's a challenge that the players should embrace and enjoy.

Armagh – who recently lost a dramatic Ulster final to Derry on penalties - are first on the menu for Westmeath this Saturday (Athletic Grounds, 4.45pm). This will be followed by last year’s All-Ireland finalists Galway coming to TEG Cusack Park, before a meeting with 2021 All-Ireland champions Tyrone at a neutral venue.

"It couldn't be any tougher but, to be honest, if I was a player in the dressing room and I heard I was going to be playing three of the best teams in the country, I'd be very excited. And I do think if we can play for the full 70 minutes and get that consistency, I think we'd give any team trouble. That's what we have to work on and that's what we are working on," said Dolan.

Despite the crushing nature of the Leinster quarter-final defeat to Louth, there was no sense of despondency in the Westmeath football camp last Saturday morning as players and management gathered in Athlone's Kafe U, across from the TUS Campus. The players enjoyed a relaxed breakfast at the Athlone cafe, followed by some video analysis and a training session at the TUS facilities.

Overall, the Westmeath manager is pleased with the way the players have responded to the Louth defeat.

“To be fair to the players, everybody turned up for training on the following Thursday and everyone wants to put their shoulder to the wheel. In the Leinster championship, we wanted to get to the final and have a cut at it, but you have to dust yourself off pretty quickly and understand that there is a massive competition coming and that's the All-Ireland series. The lads have applied themselves really well," he said.

Reflecting on the defeat to Louth, Dolan described the second half as "very disappointing from our perspective".

He added that his players "had put in a very good performance" in the first half but admitted that the team suffered "a bad lapse" in the second period.

The substitutions made against Louth proved a major talking point among Westmeath fans afterwards as the changes didn't have the impact required, but Dolan felt a lack of composure was a more significant factor.

"Momentum went against us. A key decision was the penalty. At the time I thought it was soft and I still think it was soft, but it gave them great momentum. We still had opportunities but we lost that bit of composure. The players who came on didn't necessarily change the way we were playing; I think we just lacked that bit of control and composure," he said.

Bad luck also played a part on the day with key players Sam McCartan and James Dolan unable to start the game, with McCartan missing out completely through illness and Dolan restricted to a cameo role.

In terms of injury worries ahead of the Armagh clash, the Westmeath manager said: "Ronan Wallace is in a cast and is an obvious concern. Ronan has a fracture in his hand and is obviously in bother. Nigel Harte will be out I'd say, he got injured in a club game.

"We're trying to get all the bodies back as quick as we can. It's attritional; you're playing three big games in effectively four weeks. It will be hard on the bodies and hard on the panel so we'll need everybody."