Little piece of history against Kildare would lift gloom for Westmeath

Former Westmeath All Star John Keane has described Sunday’s Leinster semi-final as the county’s make-or-break fixture for 2016 and believes victory over Kildare would dispel the dark clouds hanging over Tom Cribbin’s side.

Little piece of history against Kildare would lift gloom for Westmeath

Keane figured prominently at left-corner-back during Westmeath’s sole Leinster triumph back in 2004, but the failure of the Páidi Ó Sé managed side to return to the provincial decider the following summer means this group can make history this weekend by becoming the first Westmeath team to reach back-to-back Leinster finals.

Quite the carrot to be chasing, insists Keane, particularly when set against the backdrop of yet another regressive spring where Westmeath suffered a third consecutive relegation to drop to Division 4 of the league.

“For an unheralded team and for a team that has suffered so much disappointment over the last number of years, it would be an amazing feat if this group could make history and get to two Leinster finals in a row,” said Keane, an All Star recipient in 2004 and ’08.

When asked if victory over Kildare would lift the air of negativity surrounding this group as a result of three pretty abysmal league campaigns, Keane offered a sharp response: “100%, of course it would.”

He continued: “Outside of last year’s result against Meath, the lads haven’t had much to sing about in championship. I’d say you’d have to go back to 2008 for our last good run in both league and championship. A win on Sunday would change the whole outlook for everybody in the county.

“Offaly brought huge support to Mullingar the last day and that was off the back of their win over Longford. Hopefully, you will get good Westmeath support in Croker off the back of the win over Offaly.

“I know from talking to guys involved in the camp that there was a huge step up at training on the Tuesday night after the Offaly game.

“I’m a primary school teacher in Ardnagrath and we had three past pupils on the starting team against Offaly — Kieran Martin, Cullum McCormack and Alan Stone. Kieran and Callum were involved last year when we beat Meath.

“The kids remember that win. They remember going up to Dublin for the Leinster final. They don’t remember league performances. And while it was disappointing what happened during the league, it would be amazing to get to back-to-back Leinster finals as it would create a whole new atmosphere among children in the county and generate enthusiasm about the game.”

Progression through the summer is, of course, the number one priority, but Keane is looking for consistency too. He admits to being totally bemused at how the last few campaigns have worked out.

Promotion from Division 3 in 2011 and from Division 2 in 2013 was followed by relegation back to Division 2 the year after, relegation to Division 3 in 2015 and relegation to Division 4 at the end of this spring.

“It has been strange they haven’t been able to pull it together over the last number of years. It hasn’t properly come together on a given day and even against Offaly the last day, I thought we were the better team by four or five points yet there was only one in it at the finish.

“It seems we find it hard to put teams away. The talent is absolutely there, they just haven’t gelled properly together on a consistent basis.”

Keane’s former team-mate Dessie Dolan recently suggested it was time for a native to take the reins in Westmeath following a long string of outside appointments.

Keane had no interest in adding fuel to that particular fire and is adamant each player currently involved in the set-up is 100% behind Tom Cribbin.

“He is a proper GAA man and has proper GAA men with him. All the players have huge time for him and he has each one of his players on side.”

More in this section

Sport Newsletter

Latest news from the world of sport, along with the best in opinion from our outstanding team of sports writers

Sign up