Thursday, May 30, 2024

Jason Keelan: ‘Currently in submission needing to find a move’

Not the same teams as last year. Not Armagh. Not Galway. Not Tyrone. That was the ending to the last ‘On The 45’’ before the draw for the Sam Maguire Group Stages 2024. In many ways, I was looking at the draw with a few different lenses on.

In the end, Galway goalkeeper, Connor Gleeson, kicking the winner against Mayo means the maroon battle will, once again, take place in TEG Cusack Park – one day shy of a year since the sides met in the same encounter.

On that day, the Westerners ended stronger and got the victory. I really like Galway. Like many of my age, I was born in Ballinasloe Hospital and with so many Galwegian friends, I have a soft spot for the footballers (less so the hurlers but once the King leaves that might change). Before that meeting, Westmeath senior footballers will get things going with a trip north to face either Armagh or Donegal. Then we turn to neutrality against Derry. Somewhere. Maybe Breffni Park or Enniskillen. Two places I haven’t many fond memories of.

Due North

Armagh or Donegal. How do we feel about either? Is there a ‘better’ one to face from our viewpoint? The Orchard are under Kieran McGeeney for nearly a decade. The ju-jitsu and MMA practitioner certainly gets his teams to bring their physical side from the off. Should they falter against the returning ‘Jimmy’s Winning Matches’ in the Ulster decider, we are down to meet in game one.

The Japanese art that ‘Geezer’ specialises in aims to use the opponents force against themselves. Down showed that the running game yields rewards. Two good goals, several decent points, and although they were undone in stoppage time, they showed that the issues Armagh had last season remain.

Are we that sort of running team? Realistically, we would need the likes of Jonathan Lynam, Ronan Wallace, and others to try and puncture through the direct route and leave Armagh pinned to the mat.

On the flip side, for all our defensive ability, I don’t feel that we have sufficient experience to cope with Rian O’Neill, Conor Turbitt, Stefan Campbell et al. Armagh lost to Donegal in the recent Division 2 final and are devoid of their provincial title since 2008. Combine that with heartbreak in penalty shootouts and you have a team who are out to make the headlines at the business end.

Jimmy’s Return

Should Donegal prevail up north, we go to Ballybofey. Jim McGuinness is back at the helm and by taking the scalp of Derry, they put themselves straight back into the mix. We aren’t too familiar with the green and gold over the years. 2007, I remember they came to town and had a couple of lads sent-off. They also won well if memory serves me right.

Depending on what Donegal turn up might determine our chances. Early-2010s Jimmy can bring insane boredom and death by possession where, like ju-jitsu, the opposition can be driven to submission. Or maybe the slightly more free-flowing play could be on show. Westmeath would prefer a more orthodox game without the helter-skelter and waves of opposition running at them.

Maroon Battle

Galway may have gotten over the Mayo challenge in Connacht but they have areas to work on. Injuries have hampered them in recent times and they are prepared to allow sides to shoot from distance. So, maybe Ronan O’Toole or others could unlock things out the field.

Then there is the small matter of Shane Walsh (who did not even start the final). And now, young Finnerty joins the aforementioned and Damien Comer in terms of serious threats. Assuming Andy McCormack and Ray Connellan are in the midfield, the duo will have to be at their very best against the rising stock of Oughterard’s Matthew Tierney (if he starts) and St James’ Paul Conroy. Kevin Maguire, Charlie Drumm, or whoever Dessie selects in the full-back line are going to have three immensely difficult games to contend with and perhaps this might be the one where we are most fearful.

While we have shown – most recently as 2023 – that we can operate at this level, Galway have, much like McGeeney and Armagh, their eyes fixed on the prize and they will see Westmeath as that annoying grappler that they just want to enter the arena with, knock them out, and head home. And this is where we need to stand up and add our own fighting style.

Harte and Mind

Then we head to neutral ground to face Derry. They have their own story with Mickey Harte in control and having taken the Division 1 title, things are expected of them. Even despite the goalkeeping tactical backfiring against Donegal a few weeks ago, with Conor Glass, Brendan Rodgers, Gareth McKinless and others around, they will expect to be in the final hunt come summer. Westmeath will need to avoid allowing the score to build as Chrissy McKaigue and co at the rear would be more-than-content to stay ahead and play out time.

Hopes

Following the horror-show against Wicklow, we are currently in a ju-jitsu style chokehold. The only way out is to break the grip of the opponent, stay in the battle, and turn the tide around. We need to get free. Find a way to be offensive and mix it with the best even when we are expected to succumb in the ‘group of death’.

What moves has Dessie got up his sleeve? It would be incredible to get to the knockouts. Last year we were expected to be dominated and it did not happen. The voices assume we cannot repeat the trick or even go one better.

Winning Division 3 was brilliant but if we have learned anything in the last 20 years it is that you should not live off the one win forever. We need something new to get things going again. Now is the time.Find the move.

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