Sunday 22 July 2018

'We're in the final to win it' insists Westmeath's Ger Egan despite huge underdogs tag

Ger Egan: Gunning for Dublin (Dire Brennan / SPORTSFILE)
Ger Egan: Gunning for Dublin (Dire Brennan / SPORTSFILE)
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

The celebrations around Westmeath were huge.

Some supporters even approached Westmeath captain Ger Egan and suggested the win over Meath a little over a week ago gave them more joy than even their solitary Leinster Championship win in 2004.

It meant that much.

But there can scarcely be a more sobering thought that shaping up to a rampant Dublin. Such has been their dominance of late that it's put to Egan that getting to within ten points would be a good day at the office.

In reply, Egan repeats the refrain Westmeath players have offered since they stunned the Royals. They are going to Croke Park on Sunday to collect another Leinster crown and stretch their season out for as long as possible.

"We'll be hugely disappointed if we don't win; we're there to win it is as simple as that," said the Tyrrellspass man.

"As I said, you don't go into any final just to compete. They're the best team in the country and the style of football they're playing, you can't be anything but impressed.

"But we're going out to play our style and all we can do is worry about our performance on the day.

"We went back to training on Tuesday night and we know the task that's ahead of us. I suppose win or lose on Sunday we still have another game.

"Our new goal is to hopefully win Leinster and get into an All-Ireland quarter-final. It's bonus territory. The lads are relishing it."

Those are some bold statements, especially in light of the Dubs' performances so far this year. Their last two games have seen them win by 26 and 19 points but then Westmeath can lay claim to the title of 'best of the rest' in the province.

The league saw them beat Kildare and Laois while Louth, Wexford and Meath were put away in the championship. Dublin are different gravy however. And when facing a team like Jim Gavin's, perhaps their mental approach is as important as anything.

In that regard Westmeath are well served. Manager Tom Cribbin is a fan of distance running and decided to take the Westmeath job while running the New York marathon.

Gerry Duffy is part of the backroom team too and his feats in endurance events are almost unfathomable. He has run 32 marathons in 32 consecutive days and completed 10 ironman triathlons in 10 consecutive days.

By day, he works as a motivational speaker and it's that expertise he brings to the set-up.

"Gerry Duffy is involved with us and some of the stuff he has done, I don't know how he does it," Egan says.

"He's 42 or 43 years of age and did a Deca-Ironman. It is all in the mind, he just tells us you never know what you can do if you put your mind to it.

"We are mentally strong, we finish games strong and we've shown that.

"He comes to you one to one, he's a very friendly lad. He would talk to you about things that you do well and things you do not so well.

"He's just trying to give his experience, he's not trying to take over. He's only trying to do his part in there, he's a very busy man as well. He's honoured to be in with us, he's a proud Westmeath man."

In some ways Westmeath have already proved their mental toughness. When Cribbin took charge they were on a winless run that was heading towards 600 days. Despite some bright spots, a second successive relegation followed. At that stage, a Westmeath footballer wasn't something to be.

"It was a horrific 18 months and the criticism we got, well some of it was probably justifiable because it hasn't been good enough."

After their relegation, Tom Cribbin took aim at his side and in particular, his senior players. As captain, Egan could have thrown the toys from the pram. He didn't and their response has been ideal.

"I'm captain there, it's my job to lead on and off the pitch. I try and do that, to lead on and off the pitch. I wouldn't take it as him pointing straight at me though, it was every one of us; he needed more out of us. And he did get more out of us."

Since then they have grown by the game and now their championship summer will be at least five games long. Dublin are on the horizon now. And they know if they start slow as they did against Meath, there'll be no coming back. "They're going to be more ruthless. They're not going to let you back into the game the same way, I wouldn't expect they would. That's why we're going to have to start an awful lot better, get the intensity up straight away. I think the lads will.

"We'll relish the occasion. We're in bonus territory, we've nothing to lose. If they beat us by 30 points on the day well then they're after proving everyone in the country right. If we go out and cause a shock, like we did the last day, so be it.

"You have to get your own performance right, our style of football. We've gone out and we've put big scores on the board. We'd be stupid if we didn't try and do that again.

"Dublin have a bit of flair and they're the best football team in the country and the best forwards.

"Obviously we'll have to tighten up at the back but we just have to concentrate on our own performance."

Irish Independent

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