Westmeath boss Michael Ryan admits that he’s “really, really sorry” he won’t be sitting in the stand tomorrow when his native Waterford face Clare in the Allianz Hurling League final.
Westmeath host Offaly at Cusack Park in the Leinster SHC round-robin opener and that will be the main focus of Ryan’s weekend attention. But once the final whistle blows in Mullingar, Ryan will seek out news from Thurles as Waterford aim to retain their League title.
Ryan said: “I’m really, really sorry to miss that game now because it would be lovely to be above in the stand. It’s going to be fascinating, two similar styles, two teams prepared very well and their managements will have looked into every iota and detail.
“Waterford and Clare haven’t that many Leagues and All-Irelands that they can’t afford not to (go at it).
“There’s a national trophy at stake here. I think both will see it, while they mightn’t admit it, as a chance to gain a psychological advantage for the championship.
“They’ll both go at it and it’s going to be a really, really intriguing game. And it will go all the way to whatever that wire is they talk about. And Waterford to win by a point!”
During his two-year spell as Waterford boss in 2012 and 2013, Ryan introduced a number of new players to the set-up. Derek McGrath has built on that good work and Ryan is impressed by the team’s progress.
He reflected: “Waterford have a lot of really good players and they have a good minor team coming through as well. They got criticised for their style but in Derek’s first year they took a few beatings and it wouldn’t have made sense to continue what they were doing.
“They took a look at it, changed their system and they’re quite entitled to do that.
“I can’t understand why people are bitching about it (their style).
“As a management team, and as a manager, you have a look at what you have, you look at your resources and try to produce something that will make them more difficult to beat and more competitive. They’ve done that.”
In rising young star Patrick Curran, Ryan believes Waterford have a player reminiscent of former forward ace Paul Flynn.
Ryan said: “He’s an impressive player, he reminds me so much of Paul Flynn, you think he’s at nothing and the next minute he has the ball gone over the bar. Shane Bennett is a phenomenal player and they’ll be there or thereabouts. I’d be a big Waterford supporter, the first question I’ll ask when our game is over is who has won the National League final. It could be a draw but I have a sneaking suspicion that Waterford will get there. It would be great, wouldn’t it, to win two Leagues in a row?”
For Westmeath, the challenge is to repeat last year’s round-robin feat, when they emerged from the four-team group to contest a Leinster quarter-final. Offaly will present a massive challenge to the Lake County but Ryan is optimistic that his charges will rise to the test.
He said: “Westmeath haven’t beaten Offaly in the championship for 40 years.
“That doesn’t bother me one bit because the longer you go on a run, the more likely it is to end. It’s a massive, massive game, a huge test, a fantastic challenge and one we’re really looking forward to. What I know of Offaly is that they’ll be confident, their first touch will be very good, they’ll be very cute, they’ll use the ball well and if we make mistakes, they’ll punish us.
“For us, we’ll have to produce the best performance this team has ever had.
“Forget the fact the game is in Cusack Park, that’s probably worth a point or two but we’ve got to really perform and it will probably take a few subs coming off the bench, if we’re to win it. But it’s a great opportunity as well.”
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