Westmeath reaping benefits of local presence Cooney at helm

Here’s a starter for 10: Which county team has lost the least number of times this year? Not Derry, whose nine straight League wins preceded three victories and two defeats in the McKenna Cup. Tyrone also have a couple of reverses in their account, as do Kerry and Mayo.

With one loss in 13 competitive outings in 2019, Westmeath are at the top of the pile, February’s 0-10 to 0-9 defeat to Down in Newry the only blot in their copybook. Look for the reason why they have fashioned such a handsome return and the presence of a native at the helm for the first time since 1992 is the automatic response.

Jack Cooney is too diplomatic to agree, though, having served in what he considered to be a management team led by an assimilated Westmeath man.

“It’s probably being a bit unkind to Luke Dempsey. I’d consider Luke Dempsey a Westmeath man, he brought a lot of success to the county. We’re indebted to Luke. We won the All-Ireland minor in 1995, the U21 in 1999, he was involved in the senior team as well for three years.

“He’s getting back involved again now (in underage teams), which is a great sign. He’s a very successful club manager as well down in St Loman’s. I’m not quite sure, we were very lucky in Westmeath that we had a lot of very good, top inter-county managers from outside the county coming in that we’re indebted to. The likes of Páidí (Ó Sé) and Tomás (Ó Flatharta), Matt Kerrigan over the years. Brendan Lowry as well.

I suppose there’s facts and figures out there of the number of outside managers that are actually successful with counties that they’re not from.

"I think the percentages are low enough. I suppose the way the GAA is set up, because it’s a representative game, you’re nearly better to be coming from within your own county to try and drive it and do the best you can and you probably get a better response.

“But I would certainly say, the managers that have been there (in Westmeath) over that number of years have done a great job. I’m just lucky that I’m just coming in and have benefitted. I’m just lucky that I’m there.”

After beating their neighbours for the second time this year to claim a Division 3 title, Laois may be out for revenge against Westmeath in Sunday’s Leinster quarter-final but Cooney believes the value of those games has dissipated.

“The two games we’ve played against Laois already in the league will stand to nothing on May 26. There’s so much time and so much work and preparation has gone into the Championship game that I think there’ll be two completely different tuned teams arriving.

"There is no doubt that Laois don’t want to be beaten by Westmeath three times in the one year. We’re very, very aware of that. We’ll be trying to do our best to try and continue our winning run against them.”

The prizes for the winners in Tullamore is a semi-final not involving Dublin, something that isn’t lost on anybody, Cooney feels. “It’s almost like a championship within a championship to get to the Leinster final, which is great. Meath, Carlow, Laois and Westmeath all have realistic expectations of achieving that and are thinking: ‘We could get to a Leinster final’.

“That’s the way I think all those teams will be approaching it.”

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