ALL-IRELAND CLUB SEMI-FINAL FOCUS
TWELVE months ago, when Paul Conway took over as manager of Moate All Whites, little did he know that his first season would extend into the following January, writes Frank Roche.
A Leinster SFC winner under Páidí Ó Sé in 2004, Conway had inherited one of the slumbering giants of Westmeath football - a club with eight senior titles, most recently in 1997, but also a club that had since nosedived all the way down to junior.
He also knew, though, that back-to-back county minor titles offered a youthful route to redemption. So Conway took on the task, aided by former county colleague and local hero Ger Heavin, with one mission in life.
"The club's ambition was just to get the feck out of junior," he recalls. "The pressure was really on the club because, if you stay junior too long, young players get into the habit and they get stuck there - and then it's very hard for a club to change its mentality."
Thus, the mood after overwhelming Multyfarnham in the county JFC final was one of "relief rather than celebration" but the subsequent Leinster run, beating a fancied Straffan in the final, has been a welcome bonus.
Between junior and intermediate, in both codes, eight All-Ireland club semi-finals taking place tomorrow will produce eight Croke Park finalists next month. It's a huge day for all 16 HQ wannabes, but the JFC semi-final between Moate and John Mitchels at Navan (1.0) is arguably the most intriguing: a collision of young guns against Liverpool's finest who, after beating Aran Islands, are marginal 4/5 favourites with Paddy Power.
"A lot of really good footballers play over in England now - they had to leave the country to get work - and we think this will be our hardest game," Conway warned.