Westmeath's Shane Clavin tries to battle through against Galway, in the NHL Div. 1A encounter, at TEG Cusack Park last Sunday.

Depleted Westmeath facing tough test against Laois

By Damien Maher

Westmeath’s senior hurlers are facing a major battle to preserve their Division 1A status after another heavy defeat against Galway last Sunday at TEG Cusack Park.

Next Saturday’s relegation play-off against Laois has been confirmed for Semple Stadium, Thurles at 2pm. Depleted Westmeath must face into the game without playmaker in chief Niall Mitchell, who's still out injured. On a more positive note, leading scorer Killian Doyle returns.

Westmeath manager Joe Fortune confirmed Mitchell’s absence for next weekend’s play-off in the wake of last Sunday’s 4-27 to 1-12 defeat.

“Killian Doyle and Joey Boyle will play, but Niall Mitchell won’t be ready. It has come too quickly,” he remarked.

The Wexford man said his side will be ready to battle to secure another season in the top flight. The Lake County recorded a 5-24 to 1-18 victory over the O’Moore men in last year’s championship, but Fortune is expecting a much closer game next Saturday.

“I’m confident that we will have a fair crack at Laois. The big win last year against Laois in the championship will be of no relevance. That was summer hurling. I expect nothing less than a titanic battle next weekend,” he opined.

It promises to be a tough assignment for a Westmeath side battered and bruised by some of the top teams in the country and trying to compete at the highest level is obviously taking its toll.

“We will have a full panel to pick from apart from Niall and the lads who have gone travelling. We have taken so many knocks in recent weeks against the Corks, the Limericks, the Galways - all physically big players - and it’s having an impact on the panel,” observed Fortune.

Fixture confirmation:

Saturday, March 25: Allianz Hurling League Division 1 play-off, Westmeath v Laois, Semple Stadium, Thurles, 2pm, S Stack.