Flanagan praises Rohan's inspiration
Pat Flanagan has hailed the resilience of his Westmeath team, who have come from behind at half-time in each of their six Division 2 league games to claim promotion.
Flanagan has also praised the contribution of double Paralympic gold medallist Mark Rohan, who joined the back-room team at the beginning of the campaign and has, according to Flanagan, instilled "huge self-belief" in the players.
Westmeath have won five of their six games – against Louth, Longford, Laois, Wexford and Armagh – as well as drawing with Galway to secure a return to the top flight, where they had a disastrous campaign in 2009, losing all their matches.
Flanagan was a selector under Tomas O Flatharta that year and admits that mistakes made back then "cannot be repeated in advance of next year."
Against the odds, however, Westmeath have been promoted with a game to spare, and Flanagan disputes the notion that they will not be able to compete at the top level.
"We have a league final and a championship campaign before that but if Westmeath are to succeed they need to compete at this level and stay there," he said.
Westmeath lost all seven Division 1 league games four years ago, which included a closing defeat to Dublin by 27 points before losing to them again in the Leinster championship by the same margin.
They then lost all seven league matches in the following season's Division 2 before Flanagan replaced Brendan Hackett prior to the championship.
"A big issue back then (prior to the 2009 campaign) was that you couldn't train for January and it caught us. With this team, we're young and we need to be getting as much time with them as possible and that's something we were able to do prior to Christmas," said Flanagan.
"I think it's a remarkable feat to have come from behind in every game so far. We were five points down against Louth, and then had a man sent off, in the first match but fought our way back to win and we have followed on from that since. There is a sense of belief now and these guys just don't know when they are beaten."
Remarkably, Westmeath were staring at the drop to Division 3 just over a year ago before winning two of their last three games to survive. Since then they have got to within one point of Kerry in a qualifier and have now taken control of Division 2.
The addition of former Offaly footballer Joe Quinn as strength and conditioning coach, the return of Dessie Dolan and the form of John Heslin, who cut short his AFL journey over a year ago, have all been contributing factors.
But Flanagan feels Rohan, currently warm weather training in Portugal, set the tone for the season ahead.
"He sat down at our first meeting and he gave a talk and boys started to realise what can be achieved. As he said himself, he was an ordinary guy competing at the top of the world. He instilled great belief that anything can be achieved."