Westmeath manager Eoghan Kevlihan during the Electric Ireland All-Ireland Minor Football Tier 3 Championship final versus Down at Kingspan Breffni Park in Cavan. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

Kevlihan proud of his team: 'They really delivered for us'

His team may not have got the result they wanted, but Westmeath minor football team manager Eoghan Kevlihan couldn't be prouder of his young charges after their narrow defeat to Down in the Tier Three All-Ireland final in Kingspan Breffni Park on Saturday evening.

It's not too often that a football team scores 1-18 over the course of 60 minutes and ends up on the wrong side of the result. What was even more note worthy is the fact that Westmeath didn't hit one wide.

Kevlihan, who revealed that he has stepped down after six years involvement with the Westmeath underage set up, says that his young side acquitted themselves exceptionally well in what was the biggest game of their relatively short footballing careers.

“We are very proud of them. What we really focused in on was our performance, especially in a big stadium like Breffni. We learned a lot from the Meath experience at Cusack Park, which was one we left behind.

“The lads just gave a fantastic performance against Down. It just wasn't enough on the day unfortunately. Down are a top quality side that almost made the Ulster final a couple of months ago, so we knew we were up against it.

“From our point of view, we went out, we rattled them and we were in the game right to the very end. They had three forward subs that made a huge difference, they are huge men, powerful men. It was that little bit of pace and power that, as our lads were getting tired at the end of the game that seemed to be the difference.

“But from our point of view, we were very proud of the team. The lads seemed happy afterwards, disappointed, but happy that they delivered for us.”

While full of praise for the Down team, Kevlihan says that some of the key moments late in the game didn't go in Westmeath's favour.

“There were a few controversial moments. I thought William Scahill was fouled at one stage and [the referee] gave the advantage. He passed to James McHugh who was fouled again, but the referee blew the whistle for Down. The result of that was a fast attack and then they got a penalty.

“I think we were a little bit sour with that decision. In fairness to Down, they scored 1-7 against our two points in the last ten minutes. They really had that firepower at the end. They're a quality side but it's good to be competitive at a very high level.”

Looking ahead, Kevlihan says that the experience gained in their journey to the final will stand to the squad in the years ahead. If they continue on their current trajectory, he believes many of the players will have long inter-county careers.

“Ultimately it is about the development of players to go on and play for Westmeath U20s and hopefully Westmeath seniors. As I said to them after the match, there will be players in that dressing room who will represent Westmeath. If we had a small part to play in that, we're happy. They're great guys, an absolute pleasure to work with.”

Kevlihan also paid tribute to his backroom team for their effort over the season.

“My management team have just been absolutely brilliant. We've had 98 sessions this year. There was huge work from the six coaches involved.

“We worked so well together and the lads were the driving force behind the scenes: Joe Corroon, Joe Fallon, Ger O'Donoghue, Chris Cole and Ryan Jones all made major contributions.

“There was also massive support from the county board, from Barry Kelly and Peter Collins. I think we're leaving the jersey in a better place. Hopefully next year's crew can go on and take one step further.”

*See this week's paper for match report and photos.