JACK COONEY is not here to complain about Dublin, but he can’t understand why Westmeath are being denied home advantage against Jim Gavin’s All-Ireland history-makers next May.
orget Cusack Park’s capacity ceiling (somewhere north of 11,000); or the need to accommodate all season-ticket holders; or a previous Leinster Council decision detailing the four venues outside Croke Park that can host the Dubs.
The Westmeath boss just sees it as a wonderful PR opportunity lost – for no compelling reason – that his county’s Leinster SFC quarter-final is set for a neutral venue, probably Tullamore.
"I was in Portlaoise last year for a double-header between Dublin and Louth, Meath and Carlow. And I don’t know what the attendance was … was it 12 or 13 thousand?" Cooney asked.
The official figure was 14,380.
"So, you can argue it whatever way you want. Why can it not be held in Cusack Park in Mullingar? Wouldn’t it be a brilliant event? A smaller venue, a cracking atmosphere … the GAA have proven over the years that that’s a good formula and it works. Why bring it to a place that’s half-empty?"
He went on: "We’re trying to grow the game in Westmeath. This is a huge opportunity, not only for Westmeath to perform on the pitch, but for the Westmeath people to get behind the team.
"It’s a potential shop window for Westmeath ... and so what if there’s 12 or 13,000 at it, make it an all-ticket affair and make it really exciting."
No matter how many get to view the match – and where – everyone expects a Sky Blue landslide. Yet Cooney refuses to play the poor mouth – and he also maintains that the gap will eventually close between Dublin and their nearest challengers. Even in Leinster.
"We’re the next game up after they’ve created history in the championship, so it’s going to be a special day for Westmeath," he enthused.
"But I’d be quite honest with you, we’re not looking forward that much. We’re not going to start out by saying we’re playing the Dubs in the championship. We have a huge amount of work to do between now and then. We have a very important league campaign to focus in on, and try and build more momentum in Division 2."
"Our season won’t be defined by the result against Dublin," he added. "What defines our year is the number of games we play after Dublin."
While accepting their presence makes it a 'huge challenge' for all Leinster counties, the Westmeath boss insisted: "Dublin are going to be beaten some day – in Leinster and above.
"I think what’s happened is that Dublin have just brought it a completely new level. Look it, I think it’s up to the other counties to prepare and to try and rise to those standards as well. Like, the quality of football that’s being played now is phenomenal. You can say that the Dubs are walking away with Leinster … but I would have said that the standard is increasing all the time.
"If you do five-in-a-row, you’re getting most, if not all things right. Look, they’ve done a fantastic job. And again, Kerry pushed them very close this year; Mayo pushed them very close in the past. So, I think the gap is closing across the country. It’s just a matter of time before it closes in Leinster."