Westmeath’s Ronan O’Toole and Luke Loughlin in Croke Park on Sunday. PHOTO: JOHN MCCAULEY

Silverware ‘a huge incentive’: Cooney eyes up Tailteann prize

Westmeath football manager Jack Cooney has declared that the prospect of winning national silverware will drive his players on in the upcoming Tailteann Cup final.

The Tailteann Cup winners will be guaranteed a place in the Sam Maguire Cup group stages next year. That will be a welcome bonus in the view of Cooney, who firmly believes that the Tailteann Cup is worth winning in its own right.

“Silverware is silverware. We have a lot of lads who have put in a lot of time, effort and commitment into the maroon and white jersey but who don’t have a lot to show for it,” said Cooney, after last Sunday’s semi-final win over Offaly (3-22 to 2-16, see pages 78/79).

“Whether it’s the Tailteann Cup or a Division 2 or 3 league title, I think the chance of winning silverware more than anything else is a huge incentive.

“If we can put in a performance and climb the steps (of the Hogan Stand) in three weeks’ time, that would be a great experience.

“We have never been in a position where we have been working towards the last game of the season. We’re in uncharted territory so we’re really going to enjoy it. That will present new challenges but it’s also pretty exciting.

“Young Westmeath supporters are going back down the road with a positive experience in Croke Park, and maybe some of them will even go on to represent the county. If we can add a bit of silverware to that, it would just make it a lot better,” he continued.

Reflecting on the victory over Offaly, Cooney said: “It was particularly pleasing to score what we scored. On reflection I was particularly happy with the first 20 or 30 minutes because we really imposed ourselves on the game, created a lot of good chances and really played it on the front foot.

“It’s not too often that we get a win in Croke Park so we’re going to relish it.”

Asked about the rivalry between Westmeath and Offaly and the role it played in the build-up, Cooney said: “The lads have huge respect for Offaly and all the Offaly players and I think that really added to our training over the last couple of weeks.”

Westmeath’s kickout strategy paid dividends on the day and, in this regard, Cooney said: “Kickouts are a big part of the game now, it’s a set-piece. It’s where you get possession and you try to protect it till you get an opportunity at the other end. We’re delighted that a lot of the things we worked on in training came to the fore.”

John Heslin finished as top scorer with 0-8 and Cooney said: “Hes’ is bringing that off the training ground. I’m delighted for him; he’s putting in a great effort, as are all the lads.”

Lorcan Dolan came up with trumps with two goals and Cooney said: “Lorcan has found a really rich vein of form and he played very well the last day against Carlow. A lot of this is coming from the training ground. They’ve embraced it and they’re enjoying it and we they have another three weeks to go at it again.”

Cooney was also asked about the involvement of experienced trio James Dolan (who recently returned to competitive action after a long-term injury), Ger Egan and Kieran Martin.

“Jimmy (Dolan) has a lot of experience, and those little legs still go quick! He’s a great fella to have around the dressing room,” he said. “It was great to see the two boys (Ger Egan and Kieran Martin) coming in again. They have been huge contributors to Westmeath football over their lifetime and I’m delighted for them to get a win in Croke Park.”

Robbie Forde of Moate All Whites was also among the subs introduced. “Robbie seems to have a knack of scoring when he comes on. He’s a fine, young prospect; he now has another three weeks to try and push on,” said the Westmeath manager.

Despite the impressive victory, Cooney conceded that his side got “a little bit sloppy” at times during last Sunday’s game.

“There are an awful lot of things that we need to improve on and we know that. Some of our decision making in front of goal, shot options and unforced turnovers weren’t great. But by and large, we’d be delighted with the attitude, their work rate and the way the lads went at the game.”

Cavan now stand in Westmeath’s way in the first ever Tailteann Cup final on Saturday July 9.

“They are recent Ulster champions and were promoted from Division 4 this year, so they are on an upward curve,” said Cooney. “It’s a mouth-watering clash and it’s back up here in Croke Park and we’ll do the best we can."

Cooney admitted that playing last Sunday’s game in a provincial venue “would add something to it” in terms of atmosphere. On the other hand, he said the Westmeath players were keen to get another outing at GAA headquarters.

“The lads looked forward to playing in Croke Park. It was a part of the carrot for us at the start - to get back to Croke Park. It was an objective to work towards,” remarked the Coralstown/Kinnegad man.