A flip chart in the Westmeath U-21 hurling dressing-room on Wednesday evening contained a page with a list of half a dozen or so directions for the game.
If Adrian Moran’s side were to overcome the might of Kilkenny, the management explained, then each of them would have to be embraced assiduously.
There at the top of the list were the words ‘workrate’.
Fast forward to the three-quarter mark of what turned out to be a famous Westmeath win and midfielder Warren Casserly, having just burst a lung to get into the Kilkenny goalmouth to hit the game’s decisive goal, was back in midfield foraging for possession.
A huge blow to the forehead left him stricken and on the turf, his face bloodied and his eyes glazed.
The Castlepollard man was helped back to his feet and gingerly stepped forward before collapsing back to the ground, bowling medics over in the process.
Casserly was eventually lifted off the field on a stretcher and threw an assuring thumbs up signal to the crowd in the main stand to indicate he was okay.
On a remarkable night for Westmeath hurling, it was one of several war horse tales that indicated how literally the players took that command to leave everything they had on the field.
Michael Ryan, Westmeath’s senior manager, is a selector with the U-21s and insisted he wasn’t overly surprised to witness such heroic moments unfold.
“I wouldn’t say we’re madly surprised,” said Ryan matter of factly. “When we walked into the dressing-room before the game you could sense that something was going to happen. They were in the right frame of mind, they were in the right mood.
“You know, anything is possible when you get 15 fellas going really hard and working really well.”
Ryan was at pains to point out that the 1-11 to 0-12 win belongs to Moran, the team manager, and his players. The former Waterford senior boss has done his bit too though and has kept a close eye on the U21s while training together with the seniors.
The dust had barely settled at Cusack Park after the lowering of Kilkenny on Wednesday evening when Ryan was back on the pitch, taking a senior training session in advance of Sunday week’s Leinster quarter-final tie with Galway.
Asked what the underage victory will do for the county generally, he shrugged.
“Well, it will only do something if we continue to work hard,” he said. “We can do one of two things; we can live off this for the rest of our lives or we can move on. I’m not interested in any of us living off 60 minutes for the rest of our lives. We have to drive on now.
“We have a Leinster U-21 semi-final coming up in the next couple of weeks and I genuinely don’t even know who we’re playing.
Liam Varley had a huge game for Westmeath at centre-back against Eddie Brennan’s Kilkenny, fielding spectacularly at times and converting one huge free from inside his own half. He’s one of several U-21s on the senior panel including Darragh Clinton, who top scored with eight points and they will hope the same fairy dust is still in the air for Galway’s visit.
That tie is a reward for Westmeath’s perfect record across three games in the qualifier group. All in all, it’s a good time to be involved in Westmeath hurling.
“Absolutely,” enthused Ryan. “There’s only 13 clubs here but the people involved in hurling are very serious about it. And most of all it’s the panel of players that we have, 38 players in there between U21 and senior, who have trained like hell.”
Westmeath will play the winners of Dublin versus Wexford in the U21 semi-finals on June 15. Ryan said he hasn’t given that one much thought yet or the prospect of potentially being involved with the first Westmeath team to reach an U21 decider.
“We’ll forget about that and we’ll think about Galway in 10 days and then we’ll think about U-21,” he said. “But look, these fellas are well capable. Again, there’ll be no predictions but we’ll prepare well, we’ll work hard, we’ll produce a performance and if we get there to the final, we get there.”
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