O'BYRNE CUP (SF) SEMI-FINAL
WESTMEATH v KILDARE
(Cusack Park, Tomorrow 2.15)
HERE'S a little-known statistical gem that may have escaped your notice. If Westmeath lower the Lilies tomorrow, they will have overtaken their combined total of wins for all of 2010 -- in the space of a fortnight!
Then again, last season was more annus horribilis than year to remember for the Westies, who had the same number of managers as competitive victories -- just two.
Brendan Hackett's sole triumph hardly qualifies as such, given that it came against perennial whipping boys Kilkenny in the O'Byrne Shield.
He was effectively ousted by a player heave after a pointless National League campaign, following which Pat Flanagan came on board as interim boss and steadied the ship slightly: they won their first Leinster SFC outing against Wicklow before succumbing to Louth and then Derry in the qualifiers.
However, Flanagan has since been handed the job on a more permanent basis and already there are tentative reasons for cautious optimism.
His team has started the campaign with two O'Byrne Cup victories, each one slightly against the odds.
Dublin were seriously understrength but so, too, were Westmeath, who sneaked home through a last-second Paul Greville free on a hideous Tuesday night in Mullingar 11 days ago. Five days later, in Athlone, they softened the cough of a DIT outfit that had pulverised Wexford the previous weekend.
So far, so encouraging for Westmeath. Now for the hard part: unlike several of their chief Leinster rivals, Kildare have hit the ground running this January with the results to prove it -- they hammered Longford, then had five points to spare over the vanquished O'Byrne Cup holders, DCU, last Sunday.
Kildare's first-half fluency against the students will have thrilled Kieran McGeeney even if the overall waste- fulness -- reflected in 16 wides -- left plentiful scope for improvement.
Their new-look midfield of Hugh Lynch and Padraig O'Neill was particularly to the fore -- no bad thing in the absence of Dermot Earley and Darryl Flynn. At time of going to press, however, Lynch was rated a weekend doubt as he's been suffering with a bug and a team had yet to be announced.
Westmeath's chances of another notable scalp are lessened by the non-availability of Greville, Francis Boyle and Conor Jordan, who are on a team holiday with the Raharney hurlers.
Even without the in-form Greville, Flanagan has kept Dessie Dolan in reserve as the former All Star eases back into the set-up. Dolan impressed with a three-point haul off the bench against DIT, but Flanagan explained: "We have a fair idea what Dessie can do, and it's giving other guys an opportunity to see what they can do. Some of the newcomers need game-time."
The fitness, support play and clever movement displayed by Kildare last weekend, and the form of Eamonn Callaghan, Lynch, O'Neill and Mark O'Sullivan, points to an away victory.
ODDS: Westmeath 13/8, Draw 7/1, Kildare 8/13