Roche's Point: Westmeath must believe to be the best
CONFIDENCE … it's a tantalising ten-letter word.
Some footballers are innately confident whereas others, whether by nature or nurture, can mutate into gibbering wrecks once they cross the whitewash.
Yet it's not always that simple. You can be full of belief for part of a match, then bereft when you need it most.
The truly great players retain an aura of calm even as the storm clouds are gathering. In another code, Lionel Messi is a classic example: recall the first leg of Barcelona's Champions League semi-final at home to Bayern Munich.
The game was scoreless entering its 77th minute, Barca getting edgy … enter Messi with one howitzer finish, then a sublime dinked second off his 'weaker' right, and finally an assist for Neymar. Game over. That took real confidence. It took genius.
Westmeath footballers cannot claim to possess any Messis, or even Messiahs. However, they are growing in confidence as the memories of league relegation gradually fade.
Away to Louth they hit 3-14 to win by seven points. At home to Wexford on Sunday, they amassed 1-21 to win by nine.
Yet, their self-belief remains fragile. Watching events unfold in Mullingar, this was clear to see: early on they were bristling with intent, Shane Dempsey and Kieran Martin (above) making dynamic inroads while Ray Connellan was offering a soaring kickout option.
But then Martin spurned a glorious goal chance and, gradually, early confidence ebbed. Connellan departed through a black card before the break. The hosts were still ahead but unable to shake off a doughty Wexford. They kept coughing up frees punished by Ciarán Lyng's deadly citeog. Wexford finally drew level, then edged two points clear.
Westmeath confidence was now notable by its absence as players took wrong options, frequently running into traffic and coughing up possession.
But then, approaching the hour, it was Wexford's moment to rue a costly turnover ultimately leading to Martin's match-altering goal. Then, a few minutes later, the Maryland man stopped another at the far end with a heroic block.
Suddenly, it was like watching a different match. You know a team is buzzing with belief when its mind-the-houses centre-back (John Gilligan) advances to hit a spectacular point from the wing. Or when his fellow half-back (Paul Sharry) nails a beauty with the outside of his left boot, fading in from beyond the far post. Or when Denis Glennon, off the bench and belatedly catching fire, is stating his case for semi-final inclusion with a late brace.
That semi-final is against Meath - a nemesis never once beaten by Westmeath in SFC battle.
Based on form graphs in Mullingar and Navan, history could conceivably happen on June 28. But Meath teams have never lacked for confidence against their oppressed neighbour, even when faced by better Westmeath teams than this ... question is, will Westmeath have the confidence to grab their chance now?