Flanagan's fast-sinking Lakemen desperate to turn the tide in league
IT'S a miserable run which nobody would could have predicted but when Westmeath face Tipperary at Semple Stadium on Sunday, it will be just seven weeks short of three years since they last won an Allianz Football League game.
In the dreary intervening period, they have lost 15 and drawn one of 16 games, dropped from Division 1 to 3 in successive seasons, played 15 counties, had three managers and been beaten by margins ranging from one to 27 points.
It's all been so different from that pleasant Saturday evening in Navan in April 2008 when Westmeath beat Dublin by five points in the Division 2 final. Both were promoted but it still looked like a significant win for Westmeath, who'd had a consistent campaign all through the spring.
A few months later they lost to Dublin in the Leinster semi-final by two points before blowing several opportunities when losing to eventual All-Ireland champions Tyrone in the qualifiers.
Outwardly, it still left them well-poised for life in Division 1 in 2009, only to discover that being exposed to top-class opposition consistently was beyond their capabilities.
Seven successive defeats left them bound for Division 2 and seeking a new manager after the departure of Tomas O Flatharta that summer.
Division 2 appeared a more natural fit as they sought to restore stability but they ran into early problems there too, losing heavily to Donegal and Armagh. Five more defeats and a drop to Division 3 followed, leading to the resignation of manager Brendan Hackett, who was replaced by Pat Flanagan.
A win over Wicklow in the 2010 Leinster quarter-final was followed by defeats by Louth in the semi-final and Derry (qualifiers), but there were signs that Westmeath's recession had bottomed out.
This year's Division 3 campaign began with an eight-point defeat by Louth but it looked as if the long drought was about to end last Sunday. However, Cavan staged a late rally to snatch the levelling point.
It leaves Westmeath heading for Thurles for what could be a crucial game. Another defeat would be hugely damaging, leaving a drop to Division 4 as a real possibility, while a win could be the start of the long-awaited revival. They lost the corresponding tie by six points last year and with Tipp blending well, it's a tough task for Flanagan's men.