Monday, April 22, 2024

Jason Keelan: Two days, two contrasts, one stepping stone

“It was a quick-fire tally of 1-2 without reply in the final quarter that gave the 4-in-a-row All-Ireland Champions Limerick the jolt they needed to go on and take the victory.” In most scenarios, you would be forgiven for expecting this quote to be followed by an opponent like Tipperary, Kilkenny, Clare et al. But in this case, it was Westmeath. And were it not for the sheer experience of John Kiely’s serial winners in getting themselves out of tight spots, Joe Fortune and his maroon men may have been savouring a result for the ages. And it wouldn’t have been the first time, given the events in Wexford not so long ago.

After the defeat in Salthill a couple of weeks ago, Fortune called on the people to back his men, passionately saying that despite being the clear underdogs before a ball is thrown in, this is where the players want to be. They want their shots at the top guns. Naturally it is inevitable there will be days like Galway and conceding hefty scores (the selection attitude of King Henry probably does not help a county like ours either but that’s for another day). But even when a late concession of scores combined with some missed chances means you still come away from a duel against Limerick with heads, hurls, and helmets held high, much has worked out. The nay-sayers and “it wasn’t really Limerick” voices can rattle off the cliches at will but the day speaks for itself. Eight of those in green jerseys played parts against Cork in their side’s only defeat in the 2023 league group-stages. Nine Limerick men who featured in TEG Cusack Park also appeared in the league final against Kilkenny last April, where Kiely’s men won by 11 and hit an astonishing 20 wides – unheard of by their standards usually. The stats could go on and on but what it all boils down to is that Joe Fortune and Westmeath brought something to the table which was well-worth backing. It was not, by any means, the first time, nor was it the best Westmeath have produced, but with the talk of the Wexford draw and victory combo still the main constructive focus many months on, supporters will be thrilled to have this notch to add to the conversations.

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