There were some positives to be taken from Louth’s performance in Mullingar. In addition to making it a dismal afternoon for his marker, Westmeath captain, Kieran Gavin, Shane Lennon got a bundle of scores, Andy McDonnell was again in the kind of form that marked his O’Byrne Cup campaign, and John O’Brien gave us a reminder in the opening half of what he brought to the party prior to taking off for foreign shores.
There was more, however, needed to win a game during which Dublin referee, Gary McCormack, ably assisted by the sideline men, seemed determined to dominate. It ended with the locals winning by a point, the second of John Heslin’s late scores putting his side in front for the first time.
But what the scoreline of 0-16 to 2-9, sixteen scores to eleven, has hidden behind it is that for almost threequarters of the game, Westmeath played with just fourteen, and one of the goals had ‘lucky’ stamped all over it.
At a stage when tackling was at its toughest, Garrycastle’s Darren Harte used his fist to react after having been impeded and got the ultimate sanction. Yes, it was robust at times; but was it that bad to have the arbitrator show nineteen cards, twelve of which went to Louthmen?
Mr McCormack has a reputation for showing colour; it seemed he was hell bent on enhancing it in this clash of two sides widely tipped to be most prominent among the Division Two strugglers. An application of common sense is sometimes better than the strict application of the rules.
Westmeath will be encouraged by this first round win. They had the man-of-the-match in Paul Sharry, and welcomed back ace goalkeeper, Gary Connaughton, and big crowd-pleaser, Dessie Dolan. And though he frustrates and excites supporters of the maroon jersey in equal measure, Denis Glennon takes some watching. He embellished his display here with three well-taken points.
The Louth positives were outweighed by the negatives. In the absence of Paddy Keenan, midfield was almost totally wiped out in the opening half, while defence, though at a numerical advantage, was cleaned in the crucial last ten minutes.
And how can a missed close-in free from almost straight in front of the posts be explained? The taker, Jim McEneaney, was very prominent before the break, helping in the construction of a lead that stood at six points at one stage but was down to 2-4 to 0-7 at the break. All the good that he did, however, was overshadowed by this one misdirected kick.
Aidan O’Rourke has been team-building since the beginning of the season, and is left with no alternative but to continue. However, while there was nothing at risk in the O’Byrne Cup, now there are vital league points at stake.
The two on offer on Sunday next won’t be easily won, and if the three-week break before the away meeting with Laois begins with nothing on the board, the league will become an unwanted dog-fight, with no margin for error, ahead of the championship, which the manager has constantly listed as his priority.