Sunday 19 November 2017

Westies ignore tactical flak and listen to their dressing-room

Westmeath’s Ger Egan in action against Offaly’s Eoin Carroll in their drawn Leinster SFC quarter-final. Pic: Sportsfile
Westmeath’s Ger Egan in action against Offaly’s Eoin Carroll in their drawn Leinster SFC quarter-final. Pic: Sportsfile

Westmeath skipper Ger Egan has a pithy response to any recent criticisms of his team's performance levels or tactical set-up. "The only voice that matters," he says, "is what's inside the dressing-room."

After a long break following a successful climb out of the Division 4 backwaters, the past fortnight has been a challenging one for Westmeath.

In more ways than one.

First, there was an onslaught of local flak in the wake of their original war of attrition with Offaly. To hell with the horrible, wind-blighted conditions ... many fans were hugely critical of both teams' defensive mindsets and promised to ignore the replay.

Then, at the second time of asking, Westmeath cut loose - scoring 3-17, all bar four points from play.


But victory came at a cost: a cruciate injury for Paddy Holloway.

Here, arguably, is the toughest part of all: the necessity for a replay left Westmeath with just eight days to get physically right and tactically in tune for Dublin.

The past week has been filled with one question: should Westmeath revert to Leinster final type (circa 2015 and '16) and seek to ensnare Jim Gavin's prolific troops in a suffocating blanket?

Tom Cribbin wasn't giving away any tactical trade secrets when speaking to RTÉ Radio on Thursday night, but his views were still refreshingly candid.

"I've to listen to my players," the Westmeath manager explained. "There's no point in me turning around, telling the players, 'Everyone wants us to have a go.' What's having a go? Going 15 on 15 and see are we as good in every position as the All-Ireland champions two years in-a-row?

"You have to be realistic ... and very practical. We have to see what is the best way that we can line up our team to play to our full potential, that might keep us in the game towards the end. Maybe then we'll have an opportunity to try and go with it."


Cribbin's captain summed up the gargantuan challenge in another way. "We don't want to be just falling apart after 40 minutes this year, especially after the last two years - that's what happened," Egan told The Herald.

"So, are we showing improvement? Are we getting better? Can we cause them more problems?

"But Dublin are relentless in their approach and we have to be ready, and we can't take our eye off the ball for one second or they could rack up three or four points and you're chasing the game.

"So it's a huge ask ... but it's better to be there than not."

Egan concluded: "It's hard to just keep locked on the whole time. But 40 minutes of a performance isn't good enough; we're looking for a 70-minute performance. And where that takes us, I don't know."

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