Westmeath U20 football manager Damien Gavin is under no illusions about the task facing his side against Offaly in the quarter-finals of the Leinster U20 football championship in Tullamore this Saturday (throw-in 3pm).
The Lake County claimed a six-point victory over Longford last weekend (see pages 80/81) and Gavin hopes they can build on the momentum generated from that game.
“Offaly will be a tougher nut to crack. They have some decent footballers who are capable of winning games on their own. They had a comprehensive victory over Louth last weekend and recorded a high scoring victory against Carlow in their first round game,” Gavin told the Westmeath Examiner.
Looking back on the win over Longford, the Rochfortbridge man said: “We put in a good shift at the office at Pearse Park last Saturday. It’s always a difficult place to go to and come away with the right result. We had a game plan travelling down to Longford and I was really pleased with the way the players implemented it.
“Our lads have a bit of a pep in their step from the Longford victory, so we'll be hoping to use that positive energy for this weekend against Offaly,” continued Gavin, who is assisted in the management team by David Martin, Peter Tormey and Tom Stuart Trainor.
“We’ll be expecting a tight game. Offaly are a team who like to play fast attacking football. Their inside forward line are all capable of taking their chances when given the opportunity so we’ll have to try and keep them at bay.
“We got the chance to watch Offaly in their last game so we have a fair idea on how they will set up against us on Saturday. We will be bringing our own game plan to O’Connor Park, but we can’t be naïve. Offaly have serious firepower at their disposal.
The threat of Offaly attacker and Ferbane star Cian Johnson is well known at this stage. Johnson featured for the Offaly senior team this year but hasn’t played in the championship at senior level, so he’s eligible to play, unlike Westmeath counterpart Finbar Coyne. And Gavin admits that Johnson is a player that his side will “have to watch very closely”.
Offaly defeated Louth on a 2-16 to 1-7 scoreline last Sunday (the goals coming from Conor Dunne and Cian Farrell), having beaten Carlow 2-19 to 1-10 in the first game of their three-team group.
“I feel all the pressure will be on Offaly on Saturday. We have nothing to fear at O’Connor Park, it’s a venue that we are all familiar with,” said Gavin. “The majority of our players have played there before so we know what to expect.
“If you are playing three or four hours away from home, then the home team may have an advantage because the travelling team are stuck on a bus for a long duration of time, but that's not the case this weekend.”
Gavin agrees that Westmeath's record at underage level against Offaly has been disappointing over the last few years but believes this will have no bearing in Saturday's quarter-final.
“While our underage record against Offaly over the last number of years hasn't been great, I don’t think that’s going to affect the outcome of this game. This current bunch of players are very positive,” Westmeath’s 1995 All-Ireland minor winning captain continued.
“They have put in decent performances in their three outings (against Wexford, Dublin and Longford) and the win over Longford means we are coming into this encounter in a positive frame of mind.
“Thankfully we got over the Longford game without any major injury concerns and if we can improve on our performance from the Longford game, I think we have a good chance of reaching a Leinster semi-final,” he added.