Westmeath ignoring Leinster draw anomaly to focus on the bigger picture
Winning doesn't always earn the big prize as Westmeath hurlers have discovered in the Leinster hurling round robin.
They have already secured top spot in the four-county group ahead of their clash with Carlow in the final series of games on Sunday and will play Galway in the quarter-final in TEG Cusack Park on June 5.
The winners of Sunday's Offaly-Kerry game will join Westmeath in the quarter-finals, where they will play Laois. Effectively, it means that second-placed Offaly or Kerry have, on paper at least, a better chance than Westmeath of reaching the semi-final since they will be playing Laois, who had to survive two relegation play-offs to avoid dropping into Division 2 last month.
The draw didn't differentiate between Galway, All-Ireland runners-up last year, and Laois so the reward for finishing second was always going to be more attractive.
Westmeath manager Michael Ryan is ignoring the anomaly, opting instead to dwell on the positives of a season which has seen his squad win seven of nine competitive games.
"Getting into the quarter-finals was our target at the start of the round robin. It's great that we did it in two games (they beat Offaly and Kerry) so we're not complaining about where we go from here or who we play.
"We're playing Carlow on Sunday and while we're in the quarter-finals, we want to win to keep the momentum going. After that, we'll start thinking about the Galway game," he said.
Having lost to Kerry and Offaly, Carlow are out of contention. Ryan was disappointed that having won 2A, Westmeath lost to Laois in a promotion/relegation play-off but will get an opportunity to make amends on on June 5.
"We have an outstanding group of players who are working very hard. They'll be really looking forward to playing Galway once next Sunday's game is over. I have some great men working with me too so there's a very positive feel around the place," he said.
Among his backroom team are Michael Walsh, former Kilkenny All-Ireland winning goalkeeper, Tom Carr, former Dublin player and manager, as well as Westmeath locals Darren McCormack and Adrian Moran.
Westmeath were very impressive in their wins over Offaly and Kerry, games which leave Ryan well placed to assess who will reach the quarter-final.
Kerry beat Offaly in the league in Birr in March but Sunday's game is in Tullamore, a factor which he believes could be decisive.
"It's going to be a close game so playing in O'Connor Park could just swing it Offaly's way," he said.
Kerry will be weakened by the absence of attacker Mikey Boyle, who was sent off against Westmeath.
Meanwhile, Leinster Council is likely to amend the draw system next year to avoid a repetition of the anomaly which had left Westmeath with the more difficult quarter-final.
"We review all our championships at the end of the season and we'll be looking at that," said Leinster CEO Michael Reynolds.