Miserly Westmeath seek sixth clean sheet
Westmeath hurlers head into Saturday's Division 2A final against Carlow in Tullamore with a remarkable defensive record that can not have been replicated very often in League history: they went through the entire campaign without giving away a single goal.
They conceded 0-66 in five games, by far the lowest in any division.
Keeping a clean sheet for five hours 50 minutes is a huge achievement, but it still wasn't enough to enable Westmeath to win all their games.
They lost to 0-20 to 1-15 to Carlow last Sunday and head into a re-match on a six-day turnaround.
"It's always nice not to concede goals but three points are just as good to the opposition, as Carlow showed last Sunday," said Westmeath manager Michael Ryan.
Westmeath, who lost last year's 2A decider to Kerry, had qualified for the final prior to last Sunday's game, whereas Carlow needed to win to fend off London, but Ryan doesn't believe those circumstances were a major factor in the result
"Even though we were already in the final, we wanted to win but Carlow played very well and we made some mistakes. We'll need to correct them for Saturday," he said.
The winners still won't have secured promotion, instead having to play the losers of the Laois-Kerry 1B relegation play-off.
It's a controversial promotion/relegation system but Ryan won't become involved in the debate, believing that it's crucial to avoid being side-tracked ahead of final.
"I suppose it depends which side of the fence you're on. Obviously, the 2A winners would like to go straight up but if you're trying to avoid dropping out of 1B, you'd be delighted to get another chance if lose a relegation game," he said.
"Either way, you have to win 2A to have any chance of being promoted and that's all we're concentrating on at this stage."
Westmeath led by four points at half-time last Sunday but Carlow improved in the second half and finished strongly to take the points that edged them just above London.
Despite last Sunday's setback, Ryan is delighted with the progress Westmeath are making, a process that would be greatly enhanced by not only winning 2A but by clinching promotion.
"We have a young, enthusiastic squad who are putting in a huge amount of work," he said.