Westmeath manager Dessie Dolan is upbeat about the All-Ireland series. Photo: Sportsfile.

Westmeath footballers geared for massive test against Armagh

Westmeath senior football manager Dessie Dolan knows his team are facing top quality opposition in the coming weeks as Armagh, Galway and Derry await in what he labels a 'group of death'.

Armagh are Westmeath's first opponents on Saturday at the Box-It Athletic Grounds (throw-in 6pm).

However, Dolan is upbeat about Westmeath’s prospects after last year’s fine displays and following their National Football League Division 3 success this season.

“It’s a tough group. Armagh were excellent in the Ulster final and very unfortunate. Obviously Galway are provincial champions and Derry will have a sting in their tail after losing to Galway in the first game. They are quality teams and will be targeting winning the All-Ireland, that’s the level we are facing,” he observed.

Having lost to Wicklow in the Leinster championship, Westmeath took some time to regroup.

“Players needed a bit of time and we had a break, and they went back to their clubs. The last couple of weeks have been very good in terms of preparation; players are working hard. We are trying to get our injuries cleared up and we have used the time wisely, playing a couple of challenge games also,” he said.

“We were following games in each of the provinces anxiously, but I’m delighted with the players. Preparation has been good, but when you are playing Armagh away, you know the challenge you face.

"There weren’t too many Westmeath supporters up there last year so hopefully we can get a few more this year. It will be great to get the children in to watch the Galway game on the following Sunday in TEG Cusack Park. These are great occasions against some of the best teams and players in the country.”

Dolan feels his players will take confidence from their displays against Armagh, Galway and Tyrone last year, three games in which they were seriously competitive. Indeed, they would have qualified had they beaten Tyrone in the final game in which they had to settle for a draw (0-18 apiece), with John Heslin’s late free only narrowly wide.

“We have nothing to fear. We have produced great performances in recent years, in the Tailteann Cup, in the Sam Maguire Cup last year and in this year’s league final,” enthused Dolan.

“The All-Ireland series represents a different challenge. It’s very high level football. It’s fine margins, that’s the thing. When you’re playing at this level, a bounce of a ball can decide a lot. That’s where we are and where we want to be competing. The target is to be in contention in the last ten minutes of each of these games. Westmeath players are as good as any and I’d urge the supporters to come out and get behind the team.”

Westmeath’s fine display in Croke park to win the Division 3 title against Down gives Dolan renewed hope and he’s pleased that his side are back competing at the top level this season.

“We went into the league final against Down - who were many people’s favourites - and won. That earned us the right to get to the All-Ireland series and it’s great that the games we now have are massive occasions. They are all big games and you can see the quality of the teams involved,” he remarked. “It’s the level we are getting to and reaching Division 2 is progress. It’s where we want to be.”

Championship is different and Dolan realises it will take a massive effort from his players in the three games ahead, starting next Saturday in Armagh.

“The league was hectic, with a lot of games in difficult weather and bad conditions. But everything has changed now that championship is here and some players are carrying shin splints because the ground is now hard. But these are good complaints and we know that we will have to be at our very best with the opposition we are facing, which is a great challenge to have,” he added.