herald

Friday 9 December 2016

Roche's Point

WHO would want to be an inter-county manager? Then again, who would want to be a fly on the Westmeath dressing-room wall when players and management next convene to carry out a forensic audit on the demoralising league just gone?

Tom Cribbin (pictured, below) has now managed three different Leinster counties but this is his first season with Westmeath. He accepted this difficult challenge last November ... judging from his trenchant comments last Sunday, he probably didn't realise how daunting it was.

Reflecting on Westmeath's seven-point reversal to Roscommon - condemning them to a second consecutive relegation, this time to Division Three - the Kildare man was scathing about some of his "big players".

No names were mentioned, but local media observers didn't have to ponder too long before deciphering which putative leaders he was referring to, and those genuine toilers (be they greenhorns or more experienced campaigners) who are free from blame.

MAVERICK

That said, Cribbin has embarked upon a dangerous gamble. The manager of, say, Dublin or Kerry can afford to discard a gifted maverick who doesn't put in the hard yards or who strays from the straight and narrow ... counties like Westmeath don't have the same luxury of options.

For the record, here's a flavour of what a palpably frustrated Cribbin told local radio after Sunday's defeat ...

"There's a few big players just not performing for us, I don't know why or what's wrong ... these big players are not standing up. I don't know why or what's going on with them but it's the main lads."

He went on to exonerate some less-established players who "put everything on the line" before returning to his theme.

"It's lads who should be leading and should be chest out and showing these young lads where to go, they're the ones that's killing this team," he claimed. "There's hard questions to be answered and asked in the next week or two, because we might have to go on without a clatter of these players and start just purely working on these young lads."

GALLING

The really galling part - for Cribbin, players and fans - is that this new era had started so brightly, coming after 18 months of managerial upheaval, county board in-fighting, and a 15-match losing streak.

Cribbin engineered the removal of that statistical millstone when Westmeath won their second O'Byrne Cup outing, against DCU last January. They beat Longford a few days later. Then they won two of their first three league outings, at home to Laois and away to Kildare, in between running Galway to a point.

But for a late John Heslin free striking a post, they would have drawn the Galway game ... and avoided relegation, as it transpired.

Yet don't be lulled by that 'what if?' thought. The time to start judging a team's championship potential is the second half of the league, and for Westmeath to lose their last four outings by a cumulative 36 points scarcely fills you with hope for their May 17 Leinster SFC opener, even away to a Louth side spiralling towards Division Four.

The wheels have come off for Westmeath. Cribbin has chosen an unusual method - public and very damning - to fix the wagon.

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