"We put in a huge performance. The boys were exceptional. We took a bit of a battering after the last game but today showed the reality of how good this team can be. Our commitment, our effort, our tackling was immense.
"We don't get the praise we deserve. If some of decisions went the other way we'd have won that game by about five points. It's always the story for teams trying to break through."
These were the initial thoughts of Westmeath senior football manager Pat Flanagan in the aftermath of his side's heartbreaking 2-10 to 1-12 loss to Kerry in Cusack Park last Sunday afternoon in the second round of All-Ireland SFC Qualifiers.
While at pains to emphasise that he wasn't making excuses, the Clara man felt the second Kerry goal turned the game, when Ronan Foley was deemed to have taken too many steps. "It was a crazy decision if you analyse it. There were Kerry lads who took far more steps on numerous occasions."
However, Flanagan lauded the Kingdom for availing of the opportunity to score their second goal via Darran O'Sullivan.
"They showed their experience and fair dues they took their goal well, but at what stage do the lesser teams get the breaks? Kerry have hardened players, seasoned campaigners and they know when to go for the jugular. We are a young team in transition and we have lost an awful lads who would have been challenging for places. John Heslin is only 19 and has had very few training sessions due to injury. He was bound to tire. Paul Bannon put in a huge shift in the first half, but Kerry crowded the middle in the second half. They only took over in the middle of the park when the goal came."
O'Sullivan's impact as a half-time 'super-sub' was similar to Callum McCormack's against Louth for Westmeath 15 days earlier. Unfortunately, the Maryland man missed most of Sunday's game due to an injury picked up in the warm-up and Flanagan rued his absence.
"We lost Kieran Gavin before the last game and it was the same with Callum today. If we had him you would wonder what was going to happen. Every one of our lads believed we could win. It's unfortunate we didn't get across the line. How we didn't get a free down in the far corner with a couple of minutes to go is beyond me. And then they get a free up the other side. Those things turn games."
When he was queried about the added-time allocation in the second half, the Offaly native stated: "I was not happy with the additional time given all the stoppages. We felt there was another minute to go when John Heslin kicked the late free, that's why we told him to take a point. The Kerry goalkeeper (Brendan Kealy) took about 20 to 30 seconds to kick the ball out. There were some funny decisions out there and I thought we deserved a bit better."
Looking ahead to 2013, Flanagan finished by saying: "I'd like to think that I have built a foundation and I would certainly like to be here next year to carry on what I started. But that's up to the Westmeath County Board. If we are allowed to build over the coming years, that team can be a very good team in the future and can win something."
Paul Sharry has become an absolutely key member of the Westmeath team this year as an attacking half back, and he was full of praise for his team mates' display against the mighty Kingdom.
The St. Loman's, Mullingar man reflected on 2012 very positively: "Ever since the Meath game in the National League we turned it around. Everything got a lot more professional. We asked a lot more of each other. We put demands on each other to train harder and ever since that it has been a joy. It's sad now breaking up for the year, but we realise we can regroup. We matched a team with All-Ireland medals and All-Stars and we know we have that football in us."
Sharry commended his club mate John Heslin for pointing the last-gasp free, despite many supporters wondering why Westmeath did not try to manufacture a goal.
"John did the right thing. He was composed and he took the score. But I felt like it ended flat after the kick-out."
Looking ahead to 2013, Sharry is keen to play more top teams in Division Two of the league: "This year has been a great year. Every one of the lads in there is best friends. It was vital that we stayed in Division Two as playing against good teams will turn us all into better footballers. I hope that the likes of 'Natchy' (Michael Ennis) sticks around, because we also have lots of young lads willing to put in the work."