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signs are lake won't hackett



(Navan, Tonight 7.30)

WESTMEATH selector Michael 'Spike' Fagan summed it up neatly during the week. All the Westmeath players were looking forward to this match; he didn't think many of their supporters were.

By nine o'clock tonight, we'll know if the players' purported optimism was justified or whether the maroon house of cards will collapse again in the face of another attacking onslaught.

Three weeks ago, the Westmeath defence leaked 2-19 to Armagh. On paper, Brendan Hackett looks to have bolstered his defence by recalling Francis Boyle at corner-back and relocating Michael Ennis and Damien Healy to the half-back line. But will that be enough to stop the talents of a fit-again Joe Sheridan or the Bray brothers? Unlikely, given the crisis of form that the team has been trapped in since long before Hackett assumed the hotseat.

Meath badly need a victory to get their promotion ambitions back on track after defeat in Down. In normal circumstances, they would always back themselves against their western neighbours because of this fixture's lopsided history. In these circumstances, especially at home, they will fancy themselves even more ... to such an extent that maybe complacency could be their biggest enemy.

Westmeath's biggest problem, leaking cricket scores aside, is obviously up front. When Dessie Dolan and Denis Glennon were around, they looked overly reliant on this prolific duo.

Now that neither is making himself available to the new boss, you've got to wonder where the scores will come from. With the U21s in action against Meath earlier today, their attacking options are further denuded by the absence of Conor Lynam, Tommy McDaniel and James Durkan.

In recent years, Meath's defence has seldom answered to the "watertight" adjective but you can't see them being ripped apart by this relatively unknown and totally unproven visiting front six.

As for the home attack, Sheridan's return at full-forward compensates for the loss of groin victim Cian Ward, while it will be intriguing to see how the recalled Anthony Moyles fares at left half-forward, presuming he stays there. Moyles is the ultimate 'play-anywhere' servant and, while he's primarily known as a defender, he has previously looked the part on the Royals' attacking '40'.

ODDS: Meath 1/8, Draw 10/1, Westmeath 6/1