Aonghus Clarke has insisted that Joe McDonagh Cup finalists Westmeath won’t fear playing Cork or Dublin in the All-Ireland series next month.
The Westmeath hurlers will play Laois in the Tier 2 final on Sunday week — the winners will play Dublin in the All-Ireland preliminary quarter-finals, with the losers meeting Cork.
It will be Dublin’s first game since their huge win over Galway in the Leinster Championship, while Cork remain third-favourites for the All-Ireland title, despite finishing third in Munster.
Clarke, who fired three points in last year’s McDonagh Cup final loss to Carlow, said he’s optimistic that they have improved enough under Joe Quaid this year to hold their own against Cork or Dublin.
“They’re games to look forward to as a player, you can’t wait for those games,” said Clarke, part of the Westmeath team beaten 2-21 to 0-16 by Wexford in last year’s preliminary quarter-finals. “It’s a great opportunity to get to play either of them. And to be honest, I don’t think we will be fearful.
“Maybe Wexford were at a different pitch to us last year, but I think we have improved ourselves and brought ourselves to another level this year. So it’ll be interesting to see how we shape up against the stronger opposition.
We’ll relish that game. We’d have played against a lot of those lads in college, individually you’d be confident in your own ability to play against any of them. It’s just about getting a whole team effort on the day.
Westmeath have already secured their place in Group A of next season’s Allianz League alongside Limerick, Tipperary, Cork, Waterford, and Galway.
A win on Sunday week will also ensure that they compete in the Leinster Championship proper in the summer of 2020.
“I think the next game is the big one really for us because it defines your year, and next year as well,” said Clarke.
“We lost the final last year and then played Wexford. When that actually came around we nearly saw it as a massive game for us because we were after losing the McDonagh final.
We felt we’d left a bit behind us and almost wanted to redeem ourselves. We felt we had to put in a massive performance and we did. We applied ourselves an awful lot better and played very well.
“Wexford were just operating at a higher pitch than us, but I felt we performed on that day and redeemed ourselves from the weekend before, showed that we did have the capabilities to put in a big performance.”