‘Our players are happy to carry on and play’ – Delight for Westmeath as John Heslin fires them past Laois
WESTMEATH boss Jack Cooney admitted that there is a “big responsibility” on inter-county teams to remain accountable for their actions on and off the pitch amid spiralling numbers of Covid-19 cases.
ooney watched his side take a seven-month break in their stride as they blitzed midlands rivals Laois in Cusack Park today to leave them vying for promotion from Division 2 of the Allianz FL when they face Kildare next Saturday.
Whether that tie will go ahead is up in the air but Cooney insists that his players are “happy to carry on and play for Westmeath”, although he acknowledges the worries which some have in challenging times.
“A lot of players are very happy but they want to make sure that not only the players and the immediate group are safe but that their friends and families are protected and considered and not at risk as a result of inter-county football going ahead,” he said.
“We were delighted going back in September coming off the back of a club season but the last couple of days the pressure is probably building a little bit and everyone is getting a little bit tight about it.
“I would say all the players in there will be happy to carry on and play for Westmeath but we have a big, big responsibility and it’s challenging that we prepare them in a very, very safe environment.”
Westmeath star John Heslin opened further debate this week when tweeting that he was “concerned from a health and welfare perspective, both individually and collectively, for those contributing to the inter-county season” but he delivered a tour de force from centre-forward.
Laois, who lost the spine of their defence before throw-in with Mark Timmons and Colm Begley picking up knocks in their warm-up, simply couldn’t handle the St Loman’s attacker as he floated over eight points.
Mike Quirke’s side were left in the traps in the opening quarter as the home side raced into a 0-7 to nil lead after 14 minutes with Heslin and Kieran Martin influential while former AFL star Ray Connellan was also on-song up front.
Laois had to wait until the 16th minute for their opening score with Mark Barry landing two frees in quick succession before the water break, 0-7 to 0-2, but they were gaining little traction in attack as Westmeath strode forward in numbers.
Gary Walsh was the only exception and it was his 31st minute point that finally got them off the mark from play, although it was brief respite from a dominant Westmeath showing as they went in seven ahead at the break, 0-12 to 0-5.
Quirke’s frustrations saw him sent to the stand just after the break but Westmeath raced further ahead by the hour mark with points from the lively Lorcan Dolan, Ronan O’Toole and defender James Dolan, 0-16 to 0-8.
It was game, set and match when defender Jamie Gonoud found himself at the end of a sweeping team move to palm to the net and while Walsh fired over five late frees, it was far too late as Cooney looked forward to next weekend.
“We can enjoy this game against Kildare and if we get a positive result, we don’t know where we might be. It’s great to be going into that game with a win on your back. We were coming into this game and we didn’t know where we were,” he said.
SCORERS – Westmeath: J Heslin 0-8 (4f), J Gonoud 1-0, R O’Toole 0-3, R Connellan, L Dolan 0-2 each, K Martin, J Dolan, B Kelly 0-1 each.
Laois: G Walsh 0-6 (5f), M Barry, N Corbet (0-2f) each, E O’Carroll (f), D Whelan, D O’Reilly 0-1 each.
WESTMEATH –J Daly; B Sayeh, K Maguire, J Smith; J Gonoud, R Wallace, J Dolan; P Holloway, S Duncan; R Connellan, J Heslin, K Martin; L Dolan, L Loughlin, R O’Toole.
Subs: B Kelly for L Dolan (66), D Lynch for Holloway (69), C McCormack for Loughlin (73) and A McGivney for Martin (73).
LAOIS – N Corbet; T Collins, D Booth, R Pigott; A Farrell, E Buggie, S O’Flynn; K Lillis, J O’Loughlin; G Dillon, M Barry, B Byrne; D Whelan, E O’Carroll, G Walsh.
Subs: D O’Reilly for Dillon (half-time), R Munnelly for Barry (46), E Lowry for Byrne (51), M Keogh for Whelan (60) and B Daly for O’Carroll (64).
REF – P Maguire (Longford)