Sean Finnegan faces a daunting test in his first final as a Ladies Football manager, but he says his Westmeath side are not getting bogged down by the prospect of five straight losses to Dublin in the TG4 Leinster SFC decider.
For the fifth year in a row, Dublin and Westmeath will play each other in the Leinster senior final [4pm at Netwatch Cullen Park], and 24 years since their second and last provincial win, Finnegan is excited by what he has seen in the county.
An experienced coach in the men’s game, Finnegan has been involved with Roscommon and Cavan in recent years, and after a positive Spring, he hopes to see the county kick on to new heights in the coming weeks and months.
“It’s an exciting time. I’m very enthused by it. I have never been involved in previous years so I don’t have any baggage or residual thinking. I’m just looking at a game to be won. That’s all I’m thinking about and I’m really excited about it,” said Finnegan, a native of Claremorris in Co. Mayo.
“I took over in early January and I didn’t know any of the girls, I hadn’t been involved in Ladies Football. I came in with a clean bill of health and a clean slate and I found a fantastic response from the girls.
“We know we are going to face a massive challenge. As the manager, I have got to be a realist and say Dublin are a serious outfit. They are going for three All-Irelands in a row. They are really professional, well-organised, a very well-coached team. We have to accept that challenge.
“We have a fantastic bunch of girls, our skillset is very high, but we are going to have to play at the absolute edge of our ability and hope that Dublin don’t, in order to close the gap that has been evident the last few years.”
Despite not being involved in the Ladies’ game previously, Finnegan has encountered his opposite number Mick Bohan on the sidelines before. Bohan was a coach with Clare when Finnegan worked with Roscommon back in 2016.
And the Westmeath manager has brought a very strong backroom team with him. Former All-Ireland winner Tommy Carr coaches the team alongside former county players Carol Finch and Damien Kelly.
It has taken a while for the rules of the Ladies game to become second nature to Finnegan, but he has urged coaches from the men’s and ladies’ games to follow in his and Bohan’s path and cross the divide.
“Fundamentally it’s the same game, you’re preparing a team physically and mentally for to play big matches.
“In the last few years, I have been watching some of the bigger games, the standard is going up and up.
“But there isn’t many ladies inter-county teams have someone of the calibre of Tom Carr heavily involved in the team. He came in, he does the coaching and strength and conditioning. His experience is massive.
“Watching him impart that to the girls, he knows what he is talking about. It can only benefit the ladies game.”