GERRY BUCKLEY looks forward to this Sunday's Allianz League double header at Cusack Park, with the Westmeath footballers facing 2013 All-Ireland finalists Mayo at 2.30pm, and the Lake County hurlers taking on Kerry in the curtain raiser (12.45pm).
These are tough times for Westmeath GAA fans.
A horror show by the senior hurlers last Sunday week against Derry; what has become a worrying recent underage football trend when the U21s bowed out to Longford last Wednesday; and a comprehensive Allianz Football League defeat by Derry last Sunday.
And the potential bad news is that two more extremely tough opponents will visit Cusack Park next Sunday for a very rare senior double-header.
It is not being disrespectful to state that surely the only way is up for Brian Hanley’s charges in Division 2A after taking a single (and fortunate) point from two opening 'bankers’ – London and Derry.
After the Derry game, the manager tried to put a positive slant on a dreadful performance, but from chatting to diehard fans since that game, they are having none of the “27-point swing” talk.
An in-form Kerry team will be a tougher nut to crack than either London or Derry. And, after much off-field controversy since losing by 12 points to Ger Rogan’s charges, there is likely to be very little tolerance from the fans (and perhaps the powers-that-be?) of another inept and/or indisciplined display from a team already deprived of suspended and dropped players.
It has already become depressing to hear a post-match mantra from Paul Bealin in recent weeks about established players underperforming. The relegation trap door sits in waiting for the Westmeath footballers unless immediate remedial action can be taken.
With the possible exception of Tyrone, all of Westmeath's remaining opponents in Division 1 badly need league points and, on current form, a win against Mayo next Sunday seems a very tall order.
Even a draw would help, and Westmeath's rare clashes with the men in green and red invariably bring back memories of the two counties' only previous sharing of league points over four decades ago. To this day, I can vividly recall Donie Smyth’s late thunderbolt garnering the maroon and whites an unexpected point.
My other abiding memory of that rare double-header is of the late – and truly great – Mickey Fagan playing superbly and scoring 1-1 from centre half back for the Lake County hurlers against Antrim, abandoning his hurley and lining out at centre half forward for the footballers. That same day achievement has not been replicated since. Any may never be.
Rewind seven years to when I was a young boy in 1965 and attended Westmeath’s first-ever National Hurling League joust with Kerry in Croke Park. It was seldom then that any of Westmeath's county teams lined out in GAA headquarters. Ironically, that game ended level also. Another dual jewel, the multi-talented Pat Bradley played that day and was still on football duty in the aforementioned Mayo game.
In a nutshell, there have been no better dual players in the intervening period than Mickey and Pat. And boy, how we could do with some!
Westmeath v Mayo - last five NFL meetings
October 22, 1972 (Cusack Park): Westmeath 1-9 Mayo 0-12
October 14, 1973 (Charlestown): Mayo 3-8 Westmeath 2-
April 4, 2004, (Cusack Park): Westmeath 2-16 Mayo 2-10
April 3, 2005 (Castlebar): Mayo 3-16 Westmeath 1-8
March 8, 2009 (Charlestown): Mayo 1-13 Westmeath 0-8
Westmeath v Kerry - last five NHL meetings
February 10, 2008 (Tralee): Westmeath 0-17 Kerry 1-11
April 5, 2009 (Tralee): Westmeath 0-18 Kerry 2-11
March 12, 2011 (Tralee): Kerry 1-15 Westmeath 1-13
February 26, 2012 (Cusack Park): Westmeath 0-19 Kerry 3-8
February 24, 2013 (Tralee): Kerry 2-10 Westmeath 0-13