Thursday 22 March 2018

'The past will not change my approach' - Flanagan

Offaly manager Pat Flanagan (SPORTSFILE)
Offaly manager Pat Flanagan (SPORTSFILE)

Michael Verney

A day is a long time in sport, but two years is even longer, with Westmeath's stock falling from the dizzy heights of Division 1 football to flirting with relegation to Division 4.

The next instalment of the storied Midlands rivalry between Offaly and Westmeath takes centre stage this Sunday in Mullingar with more riding on it than the usual neighbourly bragging rights.

After earning their first Championship win against Meath last summer, the Lake County are now staring into an inter-county abyss, with only one win and a draw from their opening five NFL games.

For Offaly boss Pat Flanagan, it's an "ironic" position to be in. When the sides last met in the League five years ago, he was donning a Westmeath bib while Tom Cribbin, his opposite number this weekend, was Faithful manager. Westmeath pipped Offaly in the promotion race by virtue of a thrilling 0-19 to 2-11 derby win, and two years later, Flanagan guided Westmeath to the top tier.

A prosperous future beckoned but the Clara native wasn't in charge for their subsequent Division 1 spell, with Paul Bealin taking the reins. Results didn't go to plan, however, and they've since suffered a remarkable slide.

Extra spice is added to Sunday's tie with Flanagan now having the unique opportunity to help relegate his former side while giving Offaly one foot in the door up to Division 2 football.

"The local rivalry ensures it's always a huge game and with so much on the line, it should be a cracker," Flanagan said. "Going for promotion brings pressure, while Westmeath need the points.

"I'm thankful for the opportunity that Westmeath gave me to get into inter-county football but they'll know me and know my form. Two points are on offer, and the past isn't going to change my approach.

"I said I wanted to take Offaly from Division 4 to Division 2 in two years and we're still in the hunt. We have a come a long way and we'll do whatever we can to achieve that."

Flanagan believes Offaly have been better than the bare scoreline has suggested in their games thus far and with confidence growing each week, he feels they have the ability and desire to make strides.

Shane Dooley and Joey O'Connor are still juggling dual commitments, with Flanagan happy to accommodate them, but quick to acknowledge the physical and mental demands of their task.

"It's a tough ask but they're getting every opportunity and that will continue. They're trying exceptionally hard and want to play dual for their county, it's difficult to say you can't do that," he said.

"I'm more concerned about the psychological demands than the physical. The physical side will break you down but psychological strain will take you down."

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