By Gerry Buckley
After a bitterly disappointing 12-point loss to Derry in the second round of the Allianz Hurling league in Cusack Park last Sunday, Westmeath manager Brian Hanley spoke individually to the three media people on duty.
When I asked him for his immediate reaction to such an unexpected heavy defeat, the Galwegian responded: “It’s very disappointing, but having said that everything was happening grand, we were controlling the game, and next thing Niall (O’Brien) gets sent off and we gift them three goals which was criminal. We missed five goal chances, and Derek (McNicholas) was pulled up for a free. We still would have won the game. Now we wouldn’t have deserved it. It was there to be still won. It’s where we at, which is very, very disappointing. It’s the toughest game I’ve had to take since I came up here.”
In response to my question about indiscipline, particularly picking up three red cards (the first two of which were straight reds), Hanley replied: “Niall O’Brien’s - I don’t think there’s a debate, but I haven’t seen it. Liam Varley’s happened in front of me when his man turned into him and he met him with a shoulder. It wasn’t a sending off. Aaron Craig’s was just a tackle at the end, a second yellow when the game was over at that stage."
"We were more disappointed that the referee kept pulling us for overcarrying when we were going forward, but it didn’t happen the other way. Little things like that. As bad and all as things were, we still created enough to win a game. They’ll learn from that. They have to learn from that. We didn’t eat into their lead at all in the second half. It was always going to be hard when down to 14 men but we created great opportunities. The game was ours, but we didn’t take it,” he continued.
With hopes of promotion already in shreds the Westmeath bainsiteoir was asked what his target now was, and he answered: “Our target is to win the next game. It’s the same target no matter what you’re at. We have Kerry in two weeks and we have to go back to the drawing board."
"Mentally is where the work has to be done. Mentally this county has been very, very weak. It can perform well against Galway and Waterford, but it doesn’t seem to perform well against lesser teams, for want of a better way of putting it. These young lads have got to learn from that, the same as people who went before them did. They will do that. They are good honest lads. They are training very hard, but the last two matches hasn’t replicated where they have been since last October. It’ll take time.”
I finished by putting this direct question to Hanley: “So you’re not totally downcast after that?” The manager responded thus: “No. There are always positives. We could have won the game, bad and all as things were. Anyone could see we had six goal chances and we didn’t take them. That’s 18 points and we gifted three goals. That’s a 27-point swing. You can’t justify that. We conceded two own goals. That’s what we conceded there today.
"They’re mistakes that players make on a given day and you hope they’ll learn from that. One annoying thing is that we conceded a goal similar to the one before half-time today against DIT. We have gone through that and rehearsed that, and what not to do, and it raised its head today, which is disappointing,” Hanley added.