Ray Connellan in action for Westmeath in Cork last Saturday. Photo: George Hatchell.

Cooney regrets ‘Cork sucker punches’ as Westmeath are relegated

“We’re very proud of the lads to come down here and score 25 points. We played some really good quality football. Cork just caught us with a few sucker punches."

These initial thoughts from Westmeath senior football manager Jack Cooney neatly summed up last Saturday’s score fest in the resplendent Páirc Uí Chaoimh, at the end of which his charges had dropped down to Division 3 of the Allianz Football League for 2022 after a 3-22 to 0-25 defeat to the hosts.

"In fairness, we responded very well to the first and second goals, but the third goal was a bit of stretch for us when we were tiring. Every time we got a score they went down and got one, and they were able to protect their lead. But I don’t think we are out of our league in Division 2,” continued Cooney.

The cliché that ‘goals win games’ was never more apt than by the banks of the Lee. Cooney opined: “Missed goal chances can kind of creep up on you in the end. That was just the difference between the two teams at the end of the day. They took their goal chances and we didn’t take ours.

“We were very unlucky with Sam’s (McCartan) chance which came back off the butt of the post. It was a great move between himself and Hes (John Heslin). He had made a brilliant run. Sam is only 20 years of age and is an outstanding prospect, and he could have had a goal in the second half also. And we had another one or two chances on top of that.

“That’s something that we’ll work on. It would be worse if we weren’t creating those chances. I don’t know if that incident late on with Hes and the full back (Sean) Meehan (who was black carded) was inside the 20-metre line – I can’t say. But if we stick that in the back of the net, there’s three points in it and it becomes nervy (for Cork). Any time we attacked, we looked dangerous. We’re disappointed, but we got a tough league," said Cooney.

“We put three-and-a-half really good performances together and we’ve nothing to show for it which is unfortunate. That’s the cruel reality of sport,” he added.

Cooney agreed that injuries to Jack Smith and Ray Connellan, who had both been playing very well, were setbacks on the day. Also, he lamented the fact that three forwards who played against Down were not available for the Cork game. The Westmeath manager clarified that Brandon Kelly picked up a hamstring injury in a challenge match against Offaly and that Luke Loughlin “wasn’t available” last weekend.

“To be in it coming down the final straight having to take all that is a credit to the lads. They showed great character throughout the league. We’ll be far better for it as a group and we need to be able to show that as we go on.”

“I thought it was an open game. It was a bit of a shootout, to be honest. Some of the football was really high quality with 50 scores overall.

"We’ll just have to lick our wounds and get ready for the championship game against Laois (Sunday, July 4). It’s my job to ensure that lads are in the right frame of mind for that. There is no point in feeling sorry for ourselves. It is what it is. Teams get promoted and relegated every year. We’ll take all the positives out of the four games. We’ve had an unlucky stretch. We’ve given ourselves loads of chances and that is one thing that we’ll work on,” he concluded.

– Gerry Buckley