Monday 23 October 2017

Westmeath finding their feet after nightmare losing run

Westmeath manager Tom Cribbin
Westmeath manager Tom Cribbin
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

The statistics are well-known now.

Before it was halted, Westmeath's winless streak stretched to 15 games and, if you want to get particular about it, 598 days.

Back in January after their first outing of the year where Meath galloped away to a win in the second half, that streak didn't look like it would end any time soon. Afterwards, manager Tom Cribbin reported that his side's confidence was on the floor after losing so many games.

"They were a bit shell shocked that day," Cribbin recalls now. "We didn't see it coming at all. It was more like an All-Ireland final than an O'Byrne Cup match for them and they played that way. Nerves took control."

An in-form DCU were due to come to Kinnegad the following Wednesday and Westmeath finally got their win. The relief was visible.

"It was very workmanlike that night. But it was the kind of performance that would give you great heart and belief in your team. They stuck at it and ground it out and they deserved it. Then we beat Longford. They were missing a few but the confidence was up."

Laois were first up in the league in a match that the bookmakers had down as a basement battle. Again, Westmeath found a way to win against their midland rivals. They might also have snatched a point when Galway came to Mullingar but a late point attempt came back off the post. If nothing else, Cribbin believes that game serves as a high water mark.

"It wasn't pretty football against Laois but we got the win. The next day against Galway I think our mistakes probably cost us the game.

"Galway made so few mistakes. They were very impressive. They had good footballers who were comfortable on the ball from corner-back all the way up so we could see where we have to get to."

Tomorrow sees a homecoming of sorts for Cribbin when he brings his side to Kildare. He spent his early days in Laois but all his footballing life has been spent in Clane.

And if Westmeath are in a good place, there might be some head-scratching in Kildare. It seemed unlikely at the start of the year that it would be the Lilies who would be pointless after two rounds.

Still, Cribbin is looking over his shoulder. They visit Navan on Saturday week and believes they'll need to take something from one of those two fixtures.

"Going down there (to Newbridge) will be very tough," he offered.

"They let the game slip there against Down but they don't get beaten there too often. So it's a great chance for our lads to see if we learned much from the game against Galway against another very good team."

Whatever happens this weekend, Cribbin expects the battle at both ends of the Division 2 table to go down to the wire. "It's like this. We'll probably need a point from either Kildare or Meath. That's just being realistic about it. It's a very tight division.

"I don't think too many gambling men would have been backing in games in Division 2 because there's very little between a lot of the teams. I can see a lot of draws in it."

Resources are a little stretched. With the U-21s in action next Wednesday, Cribbin has some big decisions to make.

Killian Daly and Ray Connellan are eligible to play but a decision on whether they'll line out for the seniors will be left until the 11th hour.

David Duffy is recovering but won't see action this weekend. James Dolan could be out for up to two months and John Stapleton is a doubt.

Goalkeeper Darren Quinn is also out but veteran Gary Connaughton will combine will his duties as selector and play between the posts this weekend.

However, any return for Dessie Dolan is on ice. Cribbin has left the door open for the veteran to return to county colours but acknowledges that Westmeath have to move on without one of their totems at some stage.

Still, he believes the 35-year-old has something to offer.

"He knows the door is open but he's 35 and it is a massive ask for him. He's a fantastic player and he still has something to offer. But he has a job and a young family too and he does some work with RTE radio so you have to be fair to him too."

Indo Sport

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport