Westmeath senior football manager, Dessie Dolan.

Dolan issues rallying call to fans after Armagh 'sucker punch'

When this observer arrived at the Athletic Grounds on Saturday, Bruce Springsteen's 'Glory Days' was booming out over the public address system. And for long spells of the match itself, it probably felt like a return to those halcyon days when Westmeath were able to compete with the top teams in the land.

As a Westmeath player, Dessie Dolan was a central figure in many memorable occasions, but this time in his role of team manager, a narrow and unlucky defeat was the eventual outcome.

Dolan insisted that the qualities his charges demonstrated last Saturday evening have always been "there in abundance" as he reflected on a heartbreaking defeat.

"That Armagh goal at such a crucial time was very unfortunate. A miskick of a ball in, it just landed perfectly for them and ended up in the back of the net. The bad thing about it was the time it went in. From our perspective, the timing of it was a bit of a sucker punch," he said.

"We actually had looked quite comfortable in a lot of respects. We dealt with a lot of what they were throwing at us and the lads had good control of the game. But absolutely, I'm very proud of the lads and I've great faith in them. I know they can perform like that. This is the highest level you can get in the GAA and our lads are well capable of playing football at this level.

"The lads worked extremely hard. I'm just proud that they performed. They took a bit of stick after the Louth game. Looking back on that game, it was a very good first half performance, but we let ourselves down in the second half. I'm just happy that we were at the pitch of it for the full 70 minutes; it was just unfortunate that the Armagh goal went in," he continued.

Although naturally disappointed with the result, Dessie and his management team will take positives from what he called "a very good performance".

"Armagh are a fine team, an experienced team. But we're not a bad team in fairness. We firmly believe that the lads are well capable of playing at this level. They showed it in patches during the year."

Galway, runners-up to Kerry in the 2022 All-Ireland decider, are coming to TEG Cusack Park this Saturday (throw-in 5pm) and Dolan has again issued a rallying call for huge Westmeath support on the day.

"It's something that you should be looking forward to. The team who were runners-up in last year's All-Ireland final are coming to Mullingar. As a Westmeath person, first and foremost I'd hope we can get a big crowd at the game," said the Westmeath boss. "I hope we get lots of families and I hear talk that the development squads are coming in. I'd like to see loads of kids there. You want to see players like Shane Walsh, Damien Comer and Paul Conroy, and then you're going to see 'Tooler' (Ronan O'Toole) and Hes' (John Heslin) and all the lads in our squad. It's a great opportunity for our lads and a great opportunity for everyone in Westmeath to come out and support the team."

Ronan Wallace didn't start for Westmeath against Armagh but the attack-minded defender was introduced off the bench, while Jack Smith may have been suffering from a quad injury when he went off. Sore bodies won't have long to recover before the Galway match, but this is not something that worries Dolan.

"That's just routine, it's just your normal 70 minutes of inter-county football. They are elite athletes and they work extremely hard. There is a good medical team and that's what they're there for. The lads will rest up for a few days and they'll be good to go again on Saturday evening," he said.

Dolan felt the compact but impressive Armagh city venue played its part in last Saturday's absorbing contest.

"There was an electric atmosphere towards the end and those are the games you look back on as a footballer. The lads did great. It's disappointing but the great thing is we have another next game next weekend - an opportunity against Galway to put in another performance."

Asked about the impact of the home crowd when the game was in the melting pot, Dessie quipped: "Well, they didn't kick the ball into the net!" He then added: "I was in Clones (for the Ulster final) as well and Armagh have great supporters, and they pushed their team on."