Delighted Westmeath senior hurling stars, Owen McCabe and Tommy Doyle, following Sunday’s terrific win over Wexford in the Leinster championship.

Fortune ecstatic after wonderful Westmeath defeat his native Wexford

“It’s a huge day for Westmeath hurling,” said Lake County manager Joe Fortune after his adopted county had eliminated his native Wexford from the race for the Bob O’Keeffe Cup in truly sensational fashion last Sunday afternoon, before adding, “my parents live just 25 minutes up the road from here, so I know what hurling means to Wexford people.”

The Malahide-based teacher continued: “We’ve been talking since I took the job of ‘taking a scalp’. I always felt that Westmeath needed to believe a little bit more. Against Kilkenny and Galway, we just weren’t good enough. Today, we were 16 points down at half-time and yet we won it in the end. Look, in the first half we simply did not perform, we did not get off the bus. It was embarrassing. We were way too restrictive in our play. We used those words with the players at half-time. We were honest with them. We told them to park the first half, there was nothing we could do about it, but to go out and perform with pride in the second half.

“I said that ‘there are people down here that are paying their good money and do you want to leave a legacy as the best Westmeath team ever?’ It was the first time in the dressing-room that I felt, ‘was I a bit too harsh with them?’ But we got the start to the second half we required. I thought Niall O’Brien was exceptional and carried us early in that second half. Niall Mitchell when he came on late in the game also. Darragh Egerton was exceptional in defence, while the ‘Jogger’ has surely deserved an All Star nomination over the years. He never gets the accolades he deserves, not just for on-the-pitch stuff but off-the-pitch as well. He resonates with positivity all the time. He’s just a warrior.”

He continued: “Robbie Greville came out too with monster ball. Peter Clarke was good when he came on and he probably had a tough enough time with the U20s. But I knew there was something in the fellow, his exuberance. Davy Glennon became a father in recent weeks and he’s travelling from Galway. I asked the boys not to let him down.

“The manager gets a bit of credit, but it has to come from the players. There has to be a unity and a bond. They have to trust each other. In the first half that was all missing, but in the second half the lads simply stepped their game up to another level.

“We were first to the ball, showed a hunger and commitment that was missing in that first half. We stayed in there and saw that Wexford were beginning to panic a bit.

“We just became men, forgot about systems, and hurled.”

Understandably, the winning bainisteoir concluded with a cautionary note:

“We’ll savour this victory, but now we must come back down because we have a huge game with Antrim next weekend.

This will mean an awful lot to Westmeath. Days like today will stand a long time in the minds of Westmeath hurling people and it’s about building on that now, and not just being happy with mediocrity.

“But we still have to go to Cusack Park and put in the biggest performance ever next Sunday to stay in the Liam MacCarthy.”