THE search for a new Westmeath senior football manager has moved from crisis to high farce after Liam McHale insisted he had NOT agreed to be part of Peter Leahy's management team.
McHale confirmed that he met Leahy on Wednesday but says he "nearly crashed the car" when hearing his name linked with the Mullingar man's doomed bid to succeed Paul Bealin.
Leahy had been recommended by a five-man appointments committee for the top job, only to be rejected by delegates - on a 24-19 vote - at Wednesday night's county board meeting.
A big selling point was the inclusion of the Mayo legend as coach. But yesterday McHale clarified: "I nearly crashed the car when I heard my name mentioned on the radio when it was reported that Peter was rejected for the Westmeath position."
The man who coached a Kevin McStay-managed St Brigid's to the All-Ireland club title in 2013 is still part of the Kiltoom set-up as they prepare for another Roscommon SFC final.
"I was coming back from training with St Brigid's when Brian Carthy came on the radio at around 11 o'clock. I couldn't believe it when I heard my name read out," he told The Westmeath Independent. "I met Peter yesterday (Wednesday) and I said I'd think it over for a few days. I had spoken to him a couple of times on the phone before that - just casual talk, trying to organise a meeting. But when I met him, I never said I was coming on board."
Before this latest development, The Herald had spoken to Westmeath chairman Seán Sheridan yesterday morning, at which point he expressed disappointment at Leahy's rejection.
"He would have been well capable of managing the Westmeath team, in my opinion. What would have made it for us is bringing in a coach of the calibre of Liam McHale," Sheridan remarked.
However, McHale subsequently spoke to the chairman who "told me that he was 100 per cent sure I was coming on board before going into the county board meeting, but that wasn't the case. Seán was very apologetic and I was pleased with his response."
Meanwhile, Sheridan doesn't feel "under pressure at all" despite this latest setback. "I won't try to bully anything through the county. I'm a good listener and want the best for Westmeath. I always give the clubs the opportunity to decide," he stressed.
"I feel maybe disappointed for the five-man committee who worked very hard to try and put a management team in place. I feel sorry for them, maybe that the clubs didn't give them the credit that they should deserve. I wouldn't be under pressure - no way."
For all that, the spotlight now turns on Sheridan and his expanded six-man committee entrusted with digging Westmeath out of this managerial mess.
Jack Cooney, one of the overlooked candidates, has been touted locally as the new favourite - not alone does he have Leinster-winning experience as a selector under Páidí Ó Sé in 2004, but the former Westmeath midfielder was also reputed to have secured two stellar ex-county men as part of his proposed backroom team, double All Star John Keane and current Westmeath ladies manager Martin Flanagan.
Question is, how many candidates who weren't first choice last time will want to stay in the race? It's understood Niall Carew, a Kildare selector under Kieran McGeeney before taking charge of Waterford, remains interested.