Westmeath boss Cooney undaunted by rise in expectations ‘as long as we’re making progress’

WESTMEATH BEGIN THEIR Division 3 campaign away to Offaly this weekend and they do so with a strong pre-season campaign behind them.

Under new boss Jack Cooney, the Lake County annexed their first O’Byrne Cup title in 31 years and just their fourth overall on Friday night – albeit against Dublin’s third-string outfit. 

“It’ll shorten the journey for sure, it’s nice to get a bit of silverware in January and I’m just delighted for the lads,” said Cooney afterwards.

“We’ve worked hard since we got back together, and we weren’t going to make a big thing out of it if we won or lost, because it’s all about the league.

We can focus in on the league now, but having said that winning it is really nice because we haven’t won it in 31 years, so it’s special.

“The thing about it is when you want to progress and improve expectations increase, so it’s hard to get one without the other. We have no problem dealing with expectations as long as we are making progress.”

Experienced campaigners like James Dolan, Ger Egan and Kieran Martin were fitted around some newer faces, with Egan particularly impressing in his half-forward role up front. 

The Tyrrellspass man posted 1-5 and his 58th-minute goal effectively killed off the Dublin challenge. 

“The goal came at the right time,” explained Cooney.

“In the last couple of games we’ve scored goals the right times and it probably just knocked the wind out of Dublin a bit as well. They were getting good momentum at that stage.

“But in the second half we just looked that little bit more potent in our half forward line and into the attack, and we weren’t committing enough to that in the first half. The lads took that on well in the second half.”

Killian Daly lifts the trophy.

Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

The task for Westmeath’s first native manager in 26 years is to keep his bodies fresh as a number of his younger players juggle county and college commitments.

“We just have to go in now and see where lads are at in terms of fatigue and tiredness, there’s a few boys that played college games during the week and there’s more college games next week.

“This was our fourth game in three weeks, we are going into our fifth game in four weeks and certainly the accumulation of all those games and fatigue is going to show.

We need to manage that, we’ll take stock of how lads are and get recovery in and then just really get down and focus.

“We’ve been focussing on the league all along and taking maximum value from the games in the O’Byrne Cup. But now we really get to focus in on the league.”

In recent years Dublin’s O’Byrne Cup teams have unearthed future stars in Niall Scully and Brian Howard.

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While they lacked the experience of their opponents, there were several All-Ireland medals in the Dublin ranks from underage or club level, in addition to senior squad members from 2018 – Conor Mullally, Aaron Byrne, Conor McHugh and Colm Basquel.

Dublin’s stand-in manager Paul Clarke was satisfied with how the competition went overall, although he’d have liked to have more than the two games to assess his options.

“In previous years, we would have had the three games on the trot. It would have been nice to have more games and get more game time into guys and see how they go.

What we got was fellas who had finished last season with their clubs playing really good football that stood out in the senior and intermediate championships.

“It gave them the opportunity to come into an environment and test them against inter-county teams at senior level. And for a lot of them, it was their first chance at senior inter-county football.

“So we learned a good bit about our players and their development and hopefully, they will take this on board. The journey isn’t finished. It’s a long road.

Paul Clarke before the game.

Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

“Some of them will be looked at for a national league panel and some of them will go back to their clubs, hopefully after garnering some sort of information or knowledge.

“We’ll continue to look at them.”

Clarke plans on sitting down with Jim Gavin over the coming days to discuss potential additions to the squad as they prepare for a tit at history.

“Dublin management will analyse the game and decide what to do. I haven’t been involved with the group that are back together and the National League panel.

This has been my sole concentration. I’ll sit down and go through a report and have a chat with Jim about it and then he’ll have a look at the two games and take it from there 

“There’s a number of guys who have pedigree at minor and U21 and have done well. They represented themselves really well over the last number of weeks.

“They represented their clubs really well. They’ve all got a certain skill set that is required to play. But again, it’s a step up. It’s a big ask to go up and play against experienced teams.

“So we’ll look at everybody’s strengths and take it from there.”

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