Westmeath boss Joe Quaid says the GAA only care about the highest tier of hurling and has backed calls for all league finals to take place in Croke Park.
After Wicklow hurler Warren Kavanagh asked why the NFL finals are given preferential treatment by being staged in Croke Park, former Limerick goalkeeper Quaid rowed in behind him and hit out at what he argues is the shoddy attitude shown by GAA chiefs as well as RTÉ — to the game.
As Wicklow’s Division 2B final with Derry takes place in Inniskeen and Westmeath head to Ennis to face Kerry in the Division 2A final on Sunday, Quaid lashed:
“Cusack Park is fine but like the Wicklow hurler said football get all the divisional finals in Croke Park. There wasn’t a mention of Division 2A on League Sunday at the weekend. It’s so frustrating. It was the same with Kildare last year, the attitude was just horrendous. There was little coverage given to the Joe McDonagh, Christy Ring, Nicky Rackard and Lory Meagher Cups. It was ridiculously bad and yet they might give 15 minutes to a game between two Division 4 teams in football.
“The big debate at the moment is how much of an advantage Croke Park is to the Dublin footballers but the same can’t be said for the Dublin hurlers. You’d like to see more hurling played there. I’ve nothing against Ennis. I would think it suits both teams but we’re denying the teams that get into the final a chance to play in Croke Park like the footballers.”
Defeat Kerry on Sunday and Westmeath will return to top flight hurling for the first time since 1987 as they will take up a place in Group A of next year’s new Division 1 structure, which includes his native Limerick.
However, Quaid has gripes with the way divisions are considered differently.
“You have a play-off for relegation in Division 1A, Division 1B and promotion in Division 2A yet it’s straight relegation in 2A and 3A. There’s no consistency. All they really care about is getting Division 1 right.”
And that is what is in the minds of Quaid and his charges as they hope to repeat their 4-13 to 2-17 win over Kerry in Austin Stack Park in February.
The manager has no qualms in describing it as the most important game of Westmeath’s year regardless of what follows in the Championship.
When I took the job I said promotion in the league would be bigger than winning the Joe McDonagh Cup in the long run.
“That’s where you need to be, up among the big boys. There’s silverware at stake on Sunday but it’s the prize that goes with it that matters most.
“We haven’t played all that well in the league and had to dig out a few results. Our best performance was up in Antrim and we were extremely lucky to win in Kerry. We were six points down and Kerry basically handed us a few soft goals so we rode our luck along the way. Our chances are 50-50 at most. Kerry have the experience of Division 1B and it’s 30-odd years since Westmeath were last there.”
Then there’s the problem posed by Kerry forward Shane Conway who is possibly the most in-form hurler in the country.
“That chap would grace any team and I’m sure Kerry are damn glad to have him. We’re fully aware of the threat Shane holds. He’s gifted. He would be outstanding at any sport he played and is Kerry’s greatest hurler since Shane Brick. He takes savage watching but I don’t even know if it’s possible to do that. We just have to hope he has an off-day.”
Westmeath have a few injuries worries going into the final. Tommy Doyle and Cormac Boyle have had knocks and Darragh Clinton went off with a nasty cut in the win over Mayo at the weekend.
“We’re down about three or four at the moment as we speak,” confirmed Quaid.
“We would hope to get a few of them out on the pitch by Sunday and see how things go. But that injury list is the norm for this time of the year. The weather doesn’t help, last Sunday was the coldest I’ve ever experienced standing on a sideline.”