Westmeath hungry for success as doubts lifted, says Ger Egan

Earlier this year, Ger Egan conceded he’d almost questioned himself as a footballer after Westmeath’s horror 2014 campaign yielded 12 defeats in 12 games.

Westmeath hungry for success as doubts lifted, says Ger Egan

“It was just a terrible year,” he said at the time. “You’d almost doubt yourself as a footballer because you’re looking back at the end of the year and there were just so many losses. You were in such a rut.”

In truth, there wasn’t much that occurred throughout this year’s Allianz League campaign which ended in relegation again to convince Egan that he or the team had turned a corner.

In fact, by April, manager Tom Cribbin was unloading on his senior players — Egan may even have been on his mind after being upgraded to captain — in quite spectacular fashion, blaming Westmeath’s under-performing star players for the difficulties.

In an expletive laden rant, Cribbin eye-balled a number of players through the media when he claimed they “fucking lay down” when the going got tough.

The following day, Westmeath players refused to answer calls from the media and the suspicions was they may rebel.

Against that background of utter chaos, being the last side still standing in the Leinster championship alongside Dublin is an amazing feat.

The thing is, Egan insists Westmeath’s incredible defeat of Meath in the semi-finals isn’t the end for them, rather a taster for what’s to come when they return to Croke Park next month.

“We want to go up there and win,” said Egan. “You might think that’s naive or say: ‘How would we stand a chance?’ But we’ve nearly beaten every team in Leinster this year, one way or the other.

“We beat Kildare and Laois in the league and Meath now, they’re all in the top four teams in Leinster. So we’re going into the final to win.

“We’re not stupid either and we know we’re going to have to up our levels.

“We can’t start again like we did against Meath when we play Dublin in the Leinster final. If we’re to have any chance at all, we can’t do that. We can’t keep trying to bring teams back to us.

“But with a more rounded performance, you never know.”

It’s a thought that will linger in the coming weeks as they prepare for a first provincial final in 11 years.

Egan said the reality is that despite back-to-back relegations in the Allianz League, they never viewed it is any obstacle to championship progression.

“I suppose if you’re honest, there’s no comparison between league and championship. Sure look at Armagh last year, they got relegated to Division 3 but were probably the surprise team of the championship then, reaching the All-Ireland quarter-finals. That’s the way we looked at it.

“We were probably training that bit harder during this year’s league as well. I don’t know really, the wheels certainly fell off a little bit after a great start.

“But I always said I’d give anything to be in a Leinster final, even if we had to drop to Division 3, and we worked really hard to get there.”

A little over a decade ago, when Westmeath contested and won their last Leinster final, Kerry icon Páidí Ó Sé was in charge. One might imagine it was a summer which piqued a young Egan’s interest and sparked his imagination.

“To be honest, my interest in football wasn’t that high when I was 13 or whatever I was then,” said the Athlone IT student, also captain of their Sigerson Cup team. “But I can definitely say it’s been an honour to captain this bunch of Westmeath lads. The honesty that they have given all year is huge. To be fair, it’s a level of honesty over five or six years really.

“I suppose it’s stemming from that good U21 side we had a few years ago (2010), I think 10 of the team that started against Meath were on that side so the talent has always been there. We’re finally producing it now.”

Kieran Martin and John Heslin stole much of the plaudits after the Meath game with a 3-12 joint contribution. Egan maintained, however, that the win was down to broad brush strokes of excellence around the team more than any individual inspiration.

“We’re not relying on one or two players, even the subs that came on, like Jamie Gonoud who did brilliant when he came on in the full-back line, they were all superb. The new lads who have come into the panel have just elevated the whole thing.

“Everyone really stood up for us in the second half. It was disappointing in the first half but anyone who seen our first two games knew what we were capable of and, thank God, we produced it.

“It shows the character, the belief and the desire that Tom Cribbin and the boys have put into us. We’re going to a Leinster final now and we’re going there to win, it’s as simple as that.”

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