We need to talk about the county team
With 1 point from 4 games so far in Division 3, much of the talk has centred around whether we were completely overestimating the abilities of this team. A demolition by Clare last weekend was widely considered one of the lowest points in Westmeath football in recent memory. I can recall going to watch Westmeath playing London in Rochfortbridge over a decade ago and it looks like this is what the fans will have to look forward to in 2017. Its not all that bad though, fans will have a couple of juicy encounters against a plucky Carlow outfit in Dr. Cullen Park and the opportunity to welcome an underrated Leitrim side to TEG Cusack Park. Depressed yet? Yeah, me too.
Lets look back on the year thats gone by.
The only meaningful victory over a team ranked ahead of us was against Meath and at that, it really was only a 35 minute performance - albeit a virtuoso 35 minute performance that perhaps was the most entertaining in the championship until the last four games last year. So we know what this team can do, but they have not done it for more than a few 15 minute spells since. On paper, this team looks great. Well competitive at least. The forward division includes John Connellan, John Heslin, Ger Egan and Ray Connellan and is as good as you will find outside of the top 5 or 6 teams.I watched John Heslin single handedly win a Sigerson cup only a few weeks ago, yet he is struggling to register a few points from play for Westmeath. A lot of people are pointing to the gameplan as the reason for this and it is hard to argue against this. He is one of the most gifted players in the country and we cannot utilise him the way we need to. Cribbin needs to make him the focal point of this attack and channel everything through him. Heap the responsibility on him the way U.C.D did.
In the backs division, it just seems to me they have not settled on a centre back or full back and that is critical particularly in Division 2 and 3. One week, you see Alan Stone lining out on the edge of the square, the next he is playing wing back, the next week he's playing wing forward - that sort of chopping and changing is just crazy at this level. Having watched Kevin Maguire last year, I was sure we had nailed down a full back for Westmeath for the next 10 years. I guess Cribbin must think differently. I am all for trying things out in the league, but the lack of stability and direction at this point in March (given that they have been together for 5 months) is baffling.
We need to talk about the county board
All of this is against the backdrop of plans from the Westmeath County board to develop out TEG Cusack Park into a stadium similar to what we see in Laois, Offaly and Roscommon. And at a cost of €4 million when the county board is in massive debt already - €200,000 at the beginning of 2016.
Having spoken to a people with people involved in Airtricity League teams and other county teams around the country, it seems even that TEG have got a cheap deal for the sponsorship rights on Cusack Park too at €20k/ year for 5 years.
So what indeed is the purpose of this venture? Given that we will more than likely be playing in Division 4 next year, we cant expect to see attendances increasing any time soon. If there is an important inter-county championship game between Cork and Tyrone for example in the qualifiers, Mullingar will be competing with Tullamore, Portlaoise and Roscommon for that game. To me this is absolutely outrageous. Maybe employ a few more people on gameday to avoid situations like this below and that should sort out our stadium issues lads.
We need to talk about the underage structures
A lot of talk has been on why we cant develop a Centre of Excellence instead of the egotistical venture of developing the county stadium. I am not sure this is the most important thing to tackle at this stage. Looking at some of the counties that have done this, such as Louth, Wexford and Meath – these counties have yet to reap the benefits of developing these types of facilities.
Don't get me wrong, it would be fantastic to have a facility like this in Castletown-Geoghan but the fundamental problem is our lack of success at underage level. One of the problems is purely a numbers problem. A county board meeting last year revealed that there is only 900 eligible players below the age of 18 outside of the main 3 towns in Westmeath – Athlone, Mullingar and Kinnegad. This puts crippling pressure on rural clubs to field teams and we have seen the emergence of amalgamations not previously seen before in Westmeath football. This should be encouraged to allow young kids to get competitive football and if it means there is only 15 teams in the county at Minor Level and below, then so be it, as you can create a much higher standard of club football than they would otherwise have. In Kerry – who have seen huge success at underage level in the past 5 years, they put it down to setting up North and South Kerry county development squads which train all year round, with the best players making the final full Kerry county team. But it also means that there are a lot more players getting very competitive football and professional treatment all year round. We could achieve a similar result perhaps, if the numbers aren't there to amalgamate clubs and create a more competitive environment at minor level. The chances of anything radical being proposed at County Board Level in Westmeath though is slim and none.
We need to talk about fixtures
The county board can't even sort out a Master Fixtures list for clubs in Westmeath! It's the middle of March now – the Football Championship is beginning in 5 weeks and there has been 1 league game played with the next one not expected until the first week in April. This is just not acceptable. We don't know the dates of the championship games this year to plan holidays around. Our previous post from the W.A.G of the county player would testify to the pressures this creates between the G.A.A player and their partners.
I often think, that if there was a clubs union, ala the G.P.A, could the clubs strike until they got proper treatment from the county board. Would you accept this sort of treatment in the workplace? No. So why should we accept this for something that most clubs have been in serious training for since January. Its disillusioning. Its disrespectful. Its the reason we are doing so poorly at all levels in Westmeath. We can't be content to have this level of treatment at club level. And this leads to players having no interest in representing the county.
Liam Connerton - the Longford Football manager, said earlier this year that 60% of the players that he asked into the county turned him down this year. The way county boards operate in the G.A.A, is it any wonder.