Sunday 18 August 2019

Cooney seeking second silver hit

Westmeath boss wants League prize to go alongside O’Byrne Cup

Ambitious: Westmeath manager Jack Cooney is determined that his players build on their success. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Ambitious: Westmeath manager Jack Cooney is determined that his players build on their success. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Westmeath football can never be accused of not going places, especially when it comes to league performance.

A draw with Louth in Drogheda was enough to take them back up to Division 2 on points difference, joining Laois as Down were left marginally behind.

It was the tenth time in 12 years that they moved either up or down from division to division, landing back in Division 2 where they started out when the leagues were organised into four merit-based groups in time for 2008.

It was a third spell in Division 3 and after an indifferent start - a win, a draw and a loss to Down - they could afford no more room for error on the run-in, winning three games in succession against Laois, Sligo and Longford before last weekend's draw.

Jack Cooney is the first native Westmeath manager in 27 years since Brian Murtagh in 1992 and has drawn a good response in quick time.

They've also been the busiest team in the new inter-county season, their Allianz Division 3 final against Laois in Croke Park on Saturday (4.45pm) being their 13th game, having played five in a successful O'Byrne Cup campaign.

A second piece of silverware in less than three months would represent more tangible progress but for Cooney getting into the habit of doing things right is his and the team's priority.

"A lot of things go into performance," he said. "The best way to measure performance is the score at the end of the game.

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"You're trying to get a consistency in how you are preparing and how you are training. It's all so very important.

"Consistency just doesn't happen when you arrive on a Sunday. It has to be there permanently in everything that you do. We've been just trying to keep the standards decent with everything we do."

Cooney's own background in sports science - he now teaches at University of Limerick's Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences - has helped, as is their regular link-up with Athlone IT where they now have some use of facilities.

They've had to come from behind in a few games and had hold their nerve in a tight finish in Drogheda.

What pleased him most, though, was the response on the night they lost to Down in their third game of the campaign.

"We said to ourselves up in Newry that we had made this difficult for ourselves and we can't lose any more games, if we have an ambition to go up to Division 2.

"We didn't put a lot of pressure on going up to Division 2. We just focused in on the next game which was Laois and we got a good performance.

"And that's the way it happened. How the lads responded after the third game in the league, that they showed real good character."

They had come off the back of five games in five weeks, three in the O'Byrne Cup, before they went to Newry and it told, he felt.

"That's not taking away from Down. We were glad to get a break. It is a bit risky getting to an O'Byrne Cup final and having three league games back-to-back," acknowledged Cooney, who was assistant to Rory Gallagher for two years in Donegal.

Ger Egan has been in fine form, scoring 2-43 but they lost Jamie Gonoud and Finbar Coyne to cruciate ligament injuries last month - Gonoud against Longford, Coyne in training - that will keep them out for the season.

"Both injuries happened in the same week. They'll be a big loss - there is no doubt about that" said the Coralstown-Kinnegad man.

Promotion

With the focus on promotion, a league final is something of an afterthought.

"We didn't think about it a whole lot, the focus completely on getting promoted. But we'll go up and put in another good performance, go after it. Laois will be no different.

"A number of lads haven't played in Croke Park, so it will be a great experience, somewhat eerie.

"Tullamore makes more sense from a crowd point of view, but a lot of lads in Westmeath will be delighted getting a run-out in Croke Park.

"There is never a bad day in Croke Park, irrespective of results. When you are togging out in Croke Park, it's a good day," he admitted.

Westmeath’s tale of ups and downs

2008 promoted from Division 2

2009 relegated from Division 1

2010 relegated from Division 2

2011 promoted from Division 3

2012 remained in Division 2

2013 promoted from Division 2

2014 relegated from Division 1

2015 relegated from Division 2

2016 relegated from Division 3

2017 promoted from Division 4

2018 remained in Division 3

2019 promoted from Division 3

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