Griffin's availability a big boost to hurlers' hopes

National Hurling League Division 2A: Westmeath v Kerry, Sunday March 11, Cusack Park, Mullingar, 1pm

Damian Stack

Have seeds of doubt begun to creep into our minds? In the immediate aftermath of a sixteen point victory it's far easier to be bullish than when you've had an extra week to ruminate on the task which awaits the Kingdom in Mullingar this Sunday afternoon.

Westmeath are a very fine side indeed. They're unbeaten in this division. They've been impressive in pretty much all those games, bar perhaps their last one against London in Ruislip and we probably only think that because of how poor London were against Kerry in the opening game.

On top of that, this is every bit as much a must-win game for Westmeath as it is for Kerry, unless that is Meath upset the odds against Carlow. Unlikely we would have thought given what we've seen of both sides and for the fact that Carlow have everything to play for and Meath nothing but pride.

Pride can be a powerful motivator so rule nothing out, just don't bank upon it. A win for Meath and a defeat for Kerry would likely see Fintan O'Connor's men through to a league final on scoring difference along with Westmeath.

It's possible, of course, but Kerry will want desperately to keep their fate in their own hands by beating their hosts in the early afternoon. Whatever way you look at it, whatever permutations you might imagine, this is a game Kerry have to win to be sure of anything.

"I'd say that's fairly accurate, yeah," O'Connor said on Tuesday morning.

"Westmeath are top of the table, they've won all their games, they beat Carlow in Carlow so obviously it's a big one on Sunday and we just want to put our best foot forward and see where that takes us.

"Look Westmeath are a good side and going up and playing them on their own home patch will be tough going so look we'll just see and try and put our best foot forward. There's no question about it we'll try get a win if we can. We're fairly happy with our preparations, but that doesn't guarantee a result."

Those preparations have proven fairly tricky given the weather over the last week - which of course forced the cancellation of last weekend's fixture - but O'Connor isn't overly concerned about its potential impact.

"I wouldn't say it upset everything," he said.

"But no more than anyone else it was very hard to train or travel or move or do anything, so we probably had four or five days doing very little where ideally you'd prefer to be doing something, but look we trained on Sunday again so hopefully we'll be up and running for the weekend."

The Kingdom have been boosted by the news that midfielder Dáithí Griffin, who went off injured early in the second half of the Meath game, will be fit to face the Lake County.

"Dáithí should be fine hopefully yeah," O'Connor confirmed.

"He got a bang on the knee and he probably got a bit of a fright that it was worse than it was, but we iced it and stuff like that and it cleared up so hopefully it'll be okay. Colum Harty got a bang again [against Meath], but it was only a small issue."

The twin victories over Kildare and Meath - and very impressive victories they were too - seem to have put to bed concerns over Kerry's consistency. O'Connor, however, still feels his side have more scope for improvement.

"It's hard to know," he said when asked about his side's consistency.

"We had two fairly good wins and good performances, but again even in those two performances we probably didn't play as well for the full hour and that's something we want to address because I don't think playing against Westmeath for forty minutes / half an hour isn't going to be good enough.

"If we play for the full hour on Sunday then hopefully we'll be there or thereabouts."

That would equally be our contention. Over the course of O'Connor's tenure Kerry, when they really need to, have turned in impressive performances. A backs-to-the-wall performance against Laois in last year's relegation play-off ultimately ended in defeat, but Kerry showed up and pushed Laois all the way.

The same goes for their last visit to Mullingar to face Westmeath. When defeat would have relegated them to the Christy Ring Cup they put in a really impressive performance to turn over their hosts.

Against the odds, against a well-warned Westmeath, they could do so again.

Verdict: Kerry