Hackett urges U-21 Lakemen to 'seize the day' against fancied Dublin
WESTMEATH U-21 boss Brendan Hackett admits that his side are a "year ahead of schedule" as they head into tomorrow's Leinster football championship decider against Dublin.
The midlanders are underdogs for the trip to Parnell Park but they arguably had the more difficult route to the final. Westmeath have beaten Kildare, Meath and Laois, while reigning champions Dublin needed extra-time to get over both Carlow and a highly-regarded Louth side.
"We've had a little bit of luck along the way," said Hackett, who doubles up as senior manager. "Kildare hit the bar late on when they might have got a goal and Laois had a man sent off when they were in the ascendancy."
Despite seeing the senior side suffer their second successive demotion in the league, Hackett is optimistic about the talent emerging in the county.
"We picked this panel with a view to next year, so we are a year ahead of schedule in that regard. But in a final, it's all about seizing the day and performing. Dublin play a lovely fast brand of football and are backboned by some key senior players. We have a lot of guys of very similar ability who have done well for each other."
Across the country, the U-21 competition has thrown up surprises. Sligo and Roscommon contest the Connacht final, Tipperary are Munster champions. So what odds of a Tipp-style raid in Parnell Park?
"It's a different scenario. That was Tipperary's fourth final in a row. This is our first in 10 years," said Hackett.
Rory O'Carroll and Dean Rock will be among Dublin's main performers, while Westmeath will look to talented St Loman's man John Heslin and Tubberclair forward Ian Coffey, who had a number of approaches from soccer clubs cross channel before opting to pursue Gaelic football.
Hackett expects to draft a number of this side into the senior squad for the summer.
"We put these lads together and decided to let them play their U-21 campaign before we'd bring them in and that campaign has gone on longer than expected," he said. "But they have shown well and we're looking at bringing in about half a dozen or so and developing them for the coming years."