Westmeath manager Brian Hanley is looking to the legendary Manchester Utd manager Sir Alex Ferguson for inspiration, as his Westmeath hurlers prepare to face Antrim in the Walsh Shield this weekend.
One might be surprised to see the Athenry native and the fiery former United boss in the same sentence, but Hanley is currently going down the same route Ferguson thread back in the nineties.
Speaking after Sunday’s Walsh Cup hurling defeat at the hands of DIT, Westmeath manager Hanley, who is unlikely to be able to select former key players Brendan Murtagh and Paul Greville this year, said he is relying on youth to take Westmeath forward in 2014.
“Fergie won with young lads, so that’s the way to go!” Hanley quipped after the somewhat unlucky defeat to DIT.
“The attitude was right. That was a very honest performance. And in reflection, when we had a management meeting with everyone involved in Westmeath hurling, we put a think-tank together and one thing I felt was that we weren’t getting honesty in our performances. The day will come when a team will give them a turn over, but at least it’ll be honest. And I don’t think any player could be faulted for honesty and endeavour there. We will do well this year. I’ve no doubt about that. Where last year I knew we’d be fighting an uphill battle, this year I have no doubt we will do well,” he added.
Hanley explained that with the panel nowhere near the strength he expects it to be for the league, “it (the DIT result) was a good result for the time of year”.
“We’re happy enough, even though we’re getting a bit fed up with moral victories, we’d like to win one!” the Galway man said after his charges’ titanic 90-minute battle with the Dublin students.
“There were a couple of basic errors, but I’d be happy enough with it. That performance will win a lot of league games, and this time last year we didn’t show anything like that. We played them last year [in the Walsh Shield] and they gave us a right scutching.”
Westmeath’s hunger on Sunday was fuelled in part by a desire to meet Kilkenny in the Walsh Cup quarter-final. “It is disappointing and that’s what brings Westmeath hurling on, and what needed to happen and didn’t happen, and it’s unfortunate,” Hanley remarked.
“But so be it. This morning we’d have taken that result, not that it was a result. We’d all love to be here next week, even if it was against Kilkenny’s second or third team. But I’m happy with the young lads, and the people who made their debuts.”
Hanley paid tribute to the impact his backroom team has had so far, particularly strength and conditioning coach Peter Leahy, and selectors Stephen McNamara and Seamus Ennis.
“We hadn’t Peter last year, and it stood out a mile. It stands out a mile already how more physical we are. Stephen McNamara’s bringing a new blend to our style of hurling, a Clare style which I’d be more familiar with.”
Hanley was particularly happy with Westmeath’s output up front, with five of his six starting forwards making the score-sheet. “That’s what we needed, and that’s what hasn’t been happening. We’ve had too many passengers in the forwards the last few years, and our score count showed that,” he continued.
“When I came here first, the average score was 13 points a game. They only moved up to 15, and one of our aims now is to create three goal chances a game. We scored four today. Noel Conaty deserves great praise; Alan McGrath put in an awful honest shift, and then you had the Greville’s today as well. We’ve got a system in place, and that’s the important thing.”
Hanley said that while Brendan Murtagh, Paul Greville and Castletown-Geoghegan skipper Joe Clarke have not returned to the Westmeath fold, he is looking forward to Niall O’Brien’s return from college duty, and the recovery of Derek McNicholas, Aaron Craig and Davy Gavin from injury.
Westmeath face Antrim in the Walsh Shield at Cusack Park, Mullingar next Sunday (2pm).