Westmeath hurlers have eyes on the prize
By John Harrington
Westmeath manager Joe Quaid is well aware there’s a huge prize up for grabs when his team face Kerry in Sunday’s Allianz Hurling League Division 2A Final.
Victory means promotion to the newly restructured Division 1 next year and the invaluable opportunity for one of these teams to test themselves against the best in the country on a weekly basis.
Most of the current Westmeath players are in their early twenties with further room for improvement, so the chance to play Division One hurling couldn’t come along at a better time.
“The only way you'll get proficient at competing with the top teams is by playing the top teams,” Quaid told GAA.ie
“To be fair, it would be massive for both teams because Kerry have a very young squad as well.
“It's not the silverware on Sunday that's the big prize, it's the opportunity to play Division One hurling next year.
“That's what we're focused on as the major prize. Kerry have been in Division 1B before, Westmeath haven't. They know what it's like up there and have the experience of playing up there. It's going to be an unbelievable battle.”
Former Limerick star Quaid couldn’t have gotten off to a better start as Westmeath manager.
The Lake County won the Kehoe Cup in January when they defeated Antrim the Final, and since then they’ve won five matches from five in Division 2A of the Allianz League to qualify for Sunday’s Final.
There’s a lot of talent in this Westmeath panel, and that’s largely thanks to the emphasis the county has put in recent years on its well-run underage coaching structures and development squads.
“There's huge potential there but, look, I suppose people throw around the word potential and to me the word potential is only used for a team that has won nothing,” said Quaid. “Only if you win something has your potential has been reached
“To be fair to the county board they have done everything in their power to help us.
“The Hurling Committee, the Supporters Club, everyone. It's very unusual that you'd hear me giving praise to the boards and stuff. I have to say that they have done everything in their power to help us along the way.
“They're really passionate people. Really, I suppose, it's evening up the balance from it being a traditional football county to one where both codes can be accommodated equally.
“And, look, both codes are doing well at the moment and the board are happy while we're doing that. Hopefully we'll be able to reward them on Sunday and the footballers can do the same.”
The manner in which Carlow have competed in Division 1B of the Allianz Hurling League this year is all the more impressive when you consider there are just four senior clubs in the county.
Westmeath, in contrast, have ten senior clubs, so you could argue their potential to consistently compete in the top tier is greater still.
“It's a good base,” admitted Quaid. “Clonkill probably should have beaten Ballyboden in the Leinster Championship last year. They drew with them and had to go to extra-time.
“And you have probably another three teams at that level in the county that would all be vying to win a county championship so there is a good base there to pick from. Look, they have really good hurlers up there.
“We just have to get them to knit into the systems that we want to play and, I suppose, the ethos we want to bring to the thing.”
Westmeath defeated Kerry by two points in Round 2 back at the start of February but Quaid doesn’t think you can read too much into that statistic.
He still thinks his team are finding their way a bit, and is expecting a massive challenge from Kerry in Sunday’s Final.
“We haven't been hurling as well as we probably should be, but, look, I'll take mediocre performances and victories over good performances and losses any day.
“We're still in a transition period of getting to know the players and they're getting to know our ways. But, look, they're excellent hurlers up there.
“I suppose the big thing we're trying to do is to just impose our style on it and all get used to each other.
“We've played Kerry already and I suppose we got out of jail down there so we're under no illusions.
“They gave us three soft goals that day. They had us well-beaten in Tralee the day we played them so we know what we're up against on Sunday.”