Westmeath Manager, Pat Flanagan is facing his native county, Offaly, in the opening round of the Bord na Mona O’Byrne Cup with a seriously depleted squad, as missing will be the Garrycastle contingent who recently won the AIB Club Championships and are in training for their semi-final clash against near neighbours, St Brigid’s Roscommon plus the Lakeside county’s long time servant Fergal Wilson (31) who hung up his boots at the end of the year.
“I had a few good chats with Pat Flanagan and decided to call it a day,” Wilson told the ‘Westmeath Examiner”.
“The main reason is that I’ve been picking up a good few niggling injuries over the past couple of years, and have struggled to reach the fitness levels needed for inter-county football.
“Playing inter-county football is also extremely time-consuming, you’re talking four or five nights training each week, then games, and the amount of preparation that goes into those.
“I recently started a teaching job in Roscommon Community College as well, so I just couldn’t give the commitment needed.
“But I had 11 or 12 years involved with Westmeath, starting at underage level, so it’s been a fairly good stint. I enjoyed my association with the county very much, but sometimes you have to admit when the time has come to step aside.”
Wilson admitted he will miss the involvement in big county matches, and also the dressing-room banter.
“I think I’d a good run at it (playing for Westmeath), in fairness,” he said.
“Mostly, it was a very good time to be involved in the Westmeath set-up, and we had some very good times. To be part of the first Westmeath team to win a Leinster senior title was brilliant, it’s something I’ll never forget, but we also had the All-Ireland U21 title with Luke (Dempsey) and that was great.
“We had a great year in 2001 as well, when we led Meath by seven points in the All-Ireland SFC quarter-final, but threw it away. We were very, very close to an All-Ireland semi-final there, but it wasn’t to be,” Wilson concluded.
Nonetheless Pat Flanagan is looking forward to the new season with his new backroom team of Joe Quinn and Philip Kiernan. He told the ‘ Westmeath Independent’ :-
“Last January we beat Dublin but it did not mean a whole pile, and we need to look at the broader picture. We are blooding new players from the U21s last year. We won’t have the college or Garrycastle lads, but we want to have a look at the likes of Kieran Sheridan, Ben Moran, John Egan (injured last year),
Kevin Maguire (home after spending time abroad), Callum McCormack, Darren Malynn and Trevor English as part of our rebuilding.”
Westmeath will also be missing the services of regulars Frank Boyle and Brendan Murtagh (a member of the football panel last year) who have thrown in their lot with the Westmeath hurlers for 2012.
Flanagan again : “I have made my views clear on the dual players issue. I am not sure it benefits the county as a whole. Also, while I congratulate Garrycastle on winning the Leinster title and genuinely hope they go all the way, I could have done with their players in the early rounds of the league. Their loss and some dual players committing to hurling has weakened our panel.”
For Offaly’s recently appointed Manager, Gerry Cooney the major surprise is the selection of goalkeeper Alan Mulhall, a reliable free taker, at full forward and the re-emergence of Clara’s Kevin Meehan as goalkeeper. Mulhall in fact has been one of the leading goalscorers in Offaly Senior Club
championships over the past two years and his free taking ability will stand them in good stead upfront. Another Clara man, Lorcan Hiney makes a first appearance at wing-back with Tullamore’s Paul McConway also making a return, at full back. An interesting side. Only last weekend the teams met with
mixed fortunes as Flanagan’s Westmeath accounted, comfortably, for Wicklow whilst Cooney’s Offaly side went under to Carlow when those sides met in a challenge.
Manager Cooney says “We are looking forward to the game and want to win it but our real focus is on the league.”. “It is the attitude of the players that I am most interested in. I am happy with their attitude and their willingness to work.”
Since last year , Ciarán McManus and Karol Slattery have retired, whilst Niall McNamee is likely to be on an extended break though with the change of Management team, he appears sure to return during the League campaign. One particularly interesting ‘new recruit’ on the substitutes bench is Kilmacud
Crokes player, Brian Hanamy who has declared for Offaly through the parentage rule. John Coughlan, another Dublin player, made the same move two seasons ago though he is unavailable in 2012. Others missing this weekend are students Anton Sullivan, the Rhode forward and Bernard Allen, John
Maloney,Sean Pender and David Egan – all unavailable as the students teams have first call on those players.
The Offaly team and subs:
1.Kevin Meehan, 2. James Gallagher, 3. Paul McConway, 4. Sean Pender, 5. James Keane, 6. Brian Darby, 7. Lorcan Hiney, 8. Richie Dalton, 9. Ross Brady, 10. Graham Guilfoyle, 11. Nigel Dunne, 12. Aidan Keenaghan, 13. Willie Mulhall, 14. Alan Mulhall, 15. Ken Casey.
Subs: 16. Ian Duffy, 17. Brian Hanamy, 18. Niall Smith, 19. Kevin Lynam, 20. Ger Treacy, 21. Dan Currams, 22. Fergal Daly.
At the time of going to Press, the Westmeath side has not been announced..
So who will win? Forecast: A difficult one to call so early in the season, with so many untried players in both squads but even without the Garrycastle contingent the Westmeath side should just about shade this one with two or three points to spare.