Saturday 19 January 2019

Bressie's tweet of approval - proof that Westmeath hurling is in orbit

Westmeath now focus on Dublin or Wexford in the Leinster semis after their defeat of Kilkenny. Photo: Sportsfile
Westmeath now focus on Dublin or Wexford in the Leinster semis after their defeat of Kilkenny. Photo: Sportsfile

You know you've hit the big time when Bressie pays homage on Twitter. "Sweet lord Ireland. @westmeath_gaa just beat Kilkenny under 21s in Hurling championship. .#yopwestmeath" ... so tweeted a man who, up until Wednesday night, rivalled Niall Horan as the most celebrated icon for the youth of Westmeath.

Well, move aside Niall Breslin - and make way for an entire dressing-room of Westmeath U21 hurlers.

It's hard to know where to start with the seismic significance of that Mullingar result. Westmeath had never beaten Kilkenny in minor, U21 or senior championshp combat. Ever.

They were 16/1 to win. Eddie Brennan's Kilkenny were 1/66. Who says the bookie always knows best?

Then again, even maroon diehards didn't expect historic tremors from this U21 crop. Three years ago, they minors lost to Meath. This week's team was much altered but they were playing Kilkenny. Do the maths ...


Manager Adrian Moran, though, sensed differently. He is part of the Westmeath senior management team led by Michael Ryan, who in turn is an U21 selector. The seniors have already left their own indelible imprint on May by vanquishing Offaly en route to topping the Leinster round-robin group.

"We had the belief," he told Curveball. "The team was going well in training. There's 20 of these guys training with the seniors."

That crossover of players and mentors has fostered continuity. Confidence has cross-pollinated. But "self-drive" has been key, according to Moran.

His fellow selector, Darren McCormack, was a standout Westmeath hurler in tougher times.

"There were times Darren was training and there were nine and ten fellas," Moran pointed out. "We had an issue over the last number of weeks where we had lads standing on the sideline (at senior training) because we were playing 15 against 15. Unheard-of."

Previous underage teams have contested well against the big boys. Last year, famously, their minors toppled Wexford. But to beat Kilkenny, Moran surmises, is a "huge benefit" mentally.

And yet they almost lost it. A penny for his thoughts as Kilkenny, two points adrift, prepared to take that last-gasp penalty?

"I had huge confidence in Seán Maher. He's over six foot, a champion boxer as well, he was dancing on the line ... Seán Maher made it a very small target."

The sliotar flew wide. History.

Westmeath now focus on Dublin or Wexford in the Leinster semis. Or rather, first up, on Galway in the Leinster SHC. Three U21s started against Carlow last Sunday, two more came off the bench - including Warren Casserly, Wednesday night's goal hero and social media sensation after posting a photo of his split-open forehead on Snapchat.

For Moran, Casserly's war-wound summed up the ethos of his team.

"Westmeath, body and mind, threw everything at it. There was a count of eight or nine times in the second half where Westmeath put Kilkenny men out over the line ... we physically pushed Kilkenny to the limit."

Already the post-mortems have started in Nowlan Park. Just as they did in Offaly a few weeks back. Westmeath? Hurling?!

But maybe for once, rather than ask what's wrong with Goliath, we should celebrate the glory of David.

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