Westmeath better bet to banish memories of league relegation

Return of James Dolan and Paul Sharry can tilt the balance for the midlanders

Paul Sharry returns at wing forward for Westmeath. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Paul Sharry returns at wing forward for Westmeath. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

 

Leinster SFC first round

Louth v Westmeath, Drogheda, Sunday, 3.30pm


Westmeath go into this as desperately uneasy favourites, apparently only on the basis that however bad their spring was, Louth’s was worse. For the second year on a row, both sides were relegated.

Neither county’s new manager has much to hang his hat on.

Older guard

The defections of some of Louth’s older guard doesn’t exactly sing hosannas for Colin Kelly, while Tom Cribbin’s megaphone diplomacy after Westmeath were relegated can’t have gone down well.

This then might well be the least hyped championship opener of the year.

The Gaelic Grounds in Drogheda only holds just over 4,000 but there’s talk that even that paltry total won’t be threatened. Which is a shame really because the prize on offer here isn’t a bad one – win tomorrow and the eminently beatable Wexford await in the next round.

Both sides show a huge turnover of players from this game last year.

Louth start only six of the team that took a five-point win home from Mullingar 12 months ago.

Gone are Paddy Keenan (criminally retired at just 31), Shane Lennon, Brian White, Mick Fanning, John O’Brien, Ray Finnegan and Andy McDonnell. Paraic Smith returns after missing the league, a welcome splash of experience in a fairly callow-looking team.

Westmeath are probably bit more settled but not by much. They have fewer debutants (four to Louth’s six) and make fewer changes from last year (seven to Louth’s nine).

The spine of the side is impressive and the return from injury of James Dolan and Paul Sharry is a welcome boost for Cribbin as both were terrific in this game 12 months ago.

Past decade

Favourites though Westmeath are, it should be kept in mind that Louth have had no bother beating them over the past decade, winning four of the last five championship games against them.

But the vibes from Louth are just too unpromising this time around and a tentative vote goes to Westmeath here.

The Lowdown

Last meeting: May 17th, 2014, Leinster first round, Cusack Park, Mullingar: Louth 1-14 Westmeath 1-9.
Match odds: Louth 11/8; Westmeath 10/11; Draw 15/2.
Injuries: Dennis Glennon misses out for Westmeath; Louth have a full pick.
Louth: Neil Gallagher; Anthony Williams, Patrick Reilly, Padraig Rath; Declan Byrne, Darren O’Hanlon, Adrian Reid; Bevan Duffy, Tommy Durnin; Derek Maguire, Colm Judge, James Stewart; Ryan Burns, Conor Grimes, Paraic Smith.
Westmeath: Darren Quinn; John Gilligan, Kevin Maguire, Killian Daly; Paddy Holloway, Kieran Martin, James Dolan; Darragh Daly, Ger Egan; Paul Sharry, Ray Connellan, John Stapleton; Ciaran McCormack, John Heslin, Shane Dempsey.
Just the ticket: Adults €20 (stand), €10 (terrace); Juveniles €5 (stand) €3 (terrace).
Referee: Barry Cassidy (Derry).
Verdict: Westmeath.

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