At the end of last year Brian, an Athenry man, made a very bold decision to consider only those who would give absolute commitment to the Westmeath cause. No dual players, no hurler — no matter how talented — who couldn’t or wouldn’t make every training session.
In a dual county where football is the dominant code, it was a brave call. It’s paying off though. Already Westmeath have taken care of Antrim in the Leinster championship. Now they’ve scored 4-12 against Galway and did so with a team featuring a plethora of youngsters, not least minor star Niall O’Brien who finished the day with 2-7.
“I’ve only been here a short while,” said Brian who is in his second season.
“But I said in the very first interview I did, I couldn’t believe the quality of hurlers that are here. It’s a matter of getting a game-plan and the belief that they can do it. We’re getting there, we’ve made strides.
“This was a better performance than last year even though we weren’t in the game as close with 10 minutes to go. We had seven U21s played there today, finished with three minors. You had Tommy Gallagher coming on. He showed a bit of form in the last few days, no harm blooding him [Robbie Greville started on the wing and played the full game, as did O’Brien in the corner].”
One of those U21s was goalkeeper Shane McGovern from the little Crookedwood club, making his senior championship debut and marking it with a string of outstanding saves.
“Last year I came up here, we played Carlow and we had no sub goalie. Shane wasn’t even on the panel.
“There was a junior game on before it and Shane was in goals. He came in a week before we played Antrim in Casement Park and last Friday night I said to him, ‘Shane, a year ago did you think this would be happening?’
“Fair play to him, three or four saves he made were top class. My compliments to my goalkeeping coach Nigel Murray. He came up here with me from Galway. He’s a former Galway goalkeeper, plays in goals for Loughrea, and has done magic with them. Confidence, you could see it. Even the work he did in the warm-up you could see Shane was so relaxed and that’s compliments to him.”
Even opposing coach Anthony Cunningham, who Hanley worked for three years with the Galway U21s, was full of praise for Westmeath.
“I was impressed with their ball-work, their stick-work, their finishing.
“That’s the result of the super work Brian is doing with them. I know the amount of effort he’s putting in and the players have given him their support — he’s asked for it and they’ve responded. The dual stars have rowed in behind the hurling this year and the return was evident here.”
No good of course unless they now push on from here. But they will, says Brian. “Won’t we learn from that, the whole lot of us, including the guys that made the mistakes. We win together, we lose together, that’s the way it is, that’s the way it should be.”