Bealin out to defy all odds and doubters
Boss says Westmeath can turn negativity to their advantage
PAUL BEALIN does not profess to being a betting man but he has been curiously drawn this week to what view those with the bulging satchels make of their prospects over the next couple of months.
The odds are stark and clear, 80/1 to win the division outright, 1/7 to return without pause, painting a picture of a Westmeath team with no business to be in Division 1 of the Allianz League.
"Don't think I've seen odds quite like those before," he remarked.
It's been that way since they hiked themselves back up into the top flight with a game to spare during last year's Division 2 campaign, their spectacular capacity to turn over deficits in the second half of six successive games pushing them back to where so many believe is way out of their comfort zone.
A very negative prognosis had already been delivered about what the early part of 2014 would have in store for them by the time they had even played their Division 2 league final against Derry. As their championship campaign bottomed out with a heavy defeat to Dublin and that home qualifier loss to Fermanagh, precipitating the replacement of Pat Flanagan as manager, Westmeath became a somewhat appetising prospect.
The apparent certainty of leading a team to relegation didn't deter Bealin however, not that he is inclined to agree with that assessment. Bealin hopes that his players can feed off the negativity around them and play with the "abandon" that generally permeates through teams that don't carry the same pressure as their opponents.
"We can have a go in this league. We understand that no one gives us a chance of survival but I'm hoping that can be to our advantage. There isn't that expectancy there that can sometimes burden a team,'' he said.
Bealin recalls some of his own club managerial challenges that had that a David v Goliath feel, Mullahoran against Cavan Gaels in Cavan, Graiguecullen against Portlaoise in Laois, to emphasise his point about pre-ordained ideas being too strong.
But over a seven-game league where a stream of consistency is required can he really hold such an optimistic line?
Westmeath are one of only two of 12 teams promoted from Division 2 since the league was realigned into four straight divisions in 2008 to fail to hold onto top-tier status at the first attempt (Laois were promoted in 2011 but went back down in 2012).
Westmeath's 2009 experience in Division 1 was thoroughly forgettable and not widely foreseen after a decent league and championship in 2008.
It was a chastening experience as they conceded 11-105, scored just 3-59 for a -70 points difference.
In their last group game away to Dublin, they were hit for 5-22 on the way to a 27-point beating.
Only their three games at home gave them any small bit of respite, losing by five, two and five points respectively to Galway, Tyrone and Donegal.
The demoralising nature of 2009 begs the question as to what effect some early reversals may have on them this time round.
This year relative home comforts look a little spartan. Dublin are down in Mullingar again next week with Kerry and Mayo also due in the midlands. But four games on the road just make the task that little bit more difficult.
"You can make mistakes in Division 2 and Division 3 and you can probably get away with it. In Division 1 there just won't won't be that margin of error," he said.
"We would have liked four games at home because naturally Mullingar is always going to be better for us.
"But I'm an optimist by nature and if we can concentrate on our performance and see where it takes us, I'll be happy. We can't worry unduly about results and ignore the value of performances.
"People expect to beat us but I'd like to think that anything got from Westmeath will be hard-earned."
One beacon of hope for Westmeath is the form of their talisman John Heslin, named at full-forward for Sunday's trip to Cork. He hit seven points for UCD in their midweek Sigerson Cup match against Athlone IT.
Callum McCormack is listed among the substitutes as he recovers from injury while Denis Glennon and Dessie Dolan are also held in reserve, ensuring quite a rookie Westmeath team for the trip to Cork.