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Cribbin seeks early end to woes of west

WESTMEATH senior footballers couldn't buy a win - or even a draw - this year. The previous spring, they had perfected the art of the comeback win to secure top-flight promotion.

It's the latter quality of courage in adversity that Tom Cribbin hopes to tap into on his third foray as a senior inter-county manager, following previous spells with Laois and Offaly.

The Kildare native has inherited a team demoralised by 12 consecutive defeats in 2014 but he insists there is "potential" in the group. To underline that point, he harks back to Westmeath's U21 team of 2010 and how they "owned the ball" in the second half of the Leinster final but "just couldn't get the scores on the board" against eventual All-Ireland champions Dublin.

However, he still craves early tangible progress and has identified the first two league rounds in February - at home to Laois and Galway - as opportunities to banish the demons of the season just gone.

"The way I see Division Two, come the last match you could have four teams on three or four points, then the other teams on six points, and all teams either fighting against going down or four teams fighting for promotion. I think it could be that close, and home matches are vital," Cribbin told The Herald.

"Every county will be looking at it that way. In 2014 they were good enough to qualify for Division One with one game to go. All the games were a point or two. They were obviously games that could have gone either way … but if you are good enough to win tight games, it has to say a lot about you. Most of those players are still there."


However, those same players then lost a dozen games on the spin between O'Byrne Cup, league and championship earlier this year. That spelled the end for Paul Bealin, voted out by the clubs, who also rejected the executive's next left-field choice - Peter Leahy - before Cribbin finally emerged as a candidate they were willing to accept.

The entire saga cast county board chiefs in an unflattering light, which begs the question how Cribbin felt when first approached.

"I was a bit wary of it but, when I met them, they held their hands up and, yeah, admitted it.

"That is the most important thing; we all make mistakes in life," he reflected. "I just asked them when I was finished chatting, that if they weren't 100 percent behind me, please do not ring me with an offer of the job."

And now he has it. Cribbin is busy assembling his backroom team, with Mark Kavanagh confirmed as selector/coach and Kildare's John Doran tasked with strength and conditioning plus other coaching duties. He has worked with both men in the past.

Former Dublin boss Tom Carr will have a pivotal role with the U21s. While Cribbin is officially manager, his role will be primarily one of supporting Carr who will be the driving managerial force come the New Year, having led the Westmeath minors in recent seasons.

Cribbin will officially launch his reign this Sunday morning when he convenes their first collective training session in Mullingar. One man who won't be there is the evergreen Dessie Dolan, 35, currently immersed in Garrycastle's latest Leinster club quest.

"Unfortunately Dessie has said he is retired - and he probably got Man of the Match in the county final a few weeks ago and last Sunday (against Killoe of Longford) was probably best player on show. Maybe in the New Year he will have a change of heart, because I definitely would love to have him involved," Cribbin concluded.