Flanagan desperate for Westmeath to make step-up
HAVING soldiered in a maroon jersey for 15 years, Westmeath's Martin Flanagan hadn't hung up his boots for long before donning a bainisteoir's bib.
He now patrols the sideline for the county's ladies football team.
His first year has gone well so far, with the Lake County playing Leitrim in the Bord Gais Energy Ladies NFL Division 3 final at Parnell Park on Saturday (1.15).
Flanagan admits that the change in circumstances has given him a new appreciation of the role of a manager.
"I suppose I wasn't the best at training in the world, or anything like that, and I had to be persuaded," he says with a laugh.
"When you're trying to get people fit, I can see now where the manager was coming from. I've seen both sides, so I'm getting wiser."
Westmeath won last year's All-Ireland intermediate title and will compete at senior championship level this year, so it's vital, in Flanagan's eyes, that they are playing Division 2 football for 2013.
"With only one going up, we need to win the final. That's where you want to be -- playing the top teams."
The Division 3 decider forms the first part of a triple-header on Saturday, with the final game, the Division 1 final, being a repeat of last year's All-Ireland senior final between Cork and Monaghan.
Cork, who have won six of the last seven All-Irelands, are going for a fifth consecutive league win, and Elaine Harte insists that the desire for success remains as strong as ever.
"It's never tough to motivate yourself for a league final -- especially when it's against a team as good as Monaghan," said the goalkeeper.
Based in north Tipperary, Harte faces a journey for every match and every training session, but does not find it too taxing.
"It's not too bad -- an hour and 20 minutes. Geraldine O'Flynn comes from Portlaoise, so we meet up and make the trip down together. You wouldn't call it a struggle."
Monaghan's only league loss was to the Rebels, but Farney captain Sharon Courtney maintains that revenge for that defeat or the All-Ireland is not an issue.
"I don't think it is," Courtney says. "Yeah, grand, Cork beat us last year, but we've put in work this year and done well and the final is the reward, the focus is all on this year.
"We're still in the league and you don't get properly ticking over until the championship."
The Division 2 final is an all-Connacht affair between Galway and Mayo. Having won four All-Ireland finals in five years at the turn of the millennium, Mayo now find themselves aiming to return to the top flight.
"We were disappointed that we got knocked out of Division 1," says full-back Leona Ryder.
"It's vital to be back up there playing Cork and Monaghan and the top teams, so, hopefully, we can do the business."