An All-Ireland semi-final place is on offer when Louth meet Westmeath this Sunday in Donaghmore/Ashbourne in what is the first ever meeting of the counties in the Championship.
It has been a good start to Wayne Freeman’s tenure in Louth, a 100% record after four League matches and an impressive nine point victory over Longford to set up a winner take all clash with Westmeath who are many people’s favourites to take the Mary Quinn Cup.
Unquestionably the Lake County are the most formidable opposition Louth have faced in some time. Three League divisions separate them and for the Reds to prevail it is going to take 20 players who have played the best they’ve played all year. They will need top performances right across the board against Westmeath and the 15 that start won’t be the 15 that finish on both sides.
Louth will play like they always do, a game based on hard work, energy and honesty. If they are solid defensively over the hour and have the same belief, and attitude they showed against Longford that gives them a good chance of causing a major upset.
In only his second Championship game in charge of Louth Wayne Freeman is looking forward to the challenge against a Westmeath team not short of confidence;
“Training has gone really well again this week. There’s a real confidence in the camp at the moment. We know they will be favourites and that’s a nice place to be. We knew when the group was drawn it was going to be a challenge, but it was something that excited us.
There were a few pleasing factors about that win in Clones to be honest. But the most pleasing factor was the work rate. Right through the team we had runners everywhere and the hunger off the ball both in and out of possession was unreal.
We are under no illusion it is going to be a tough test. But we have confidence in what we are doing. We will try and execute our game plan and play with our pace and intensity. We have been working extremely hard and we will fight for everything from the first to the last minute.
We always concentrate on ourselves first. We make sure we apply ourselves properly and get our stamp on the game. They have good players all over the pitch, as do we, so the individual battles will be interesting to see.
We’re a well-grounded and competitive bunch. We know we must improve again this week. But it is always our attitude. We always strive to improve in all areas of our game. This week is no different.
Having Kate Flood and Eimear Murray who both missed the NFL campaign, back was great as they are both extremely competitive athletes. It was also Michelle McMahons competitive return and we had a few championship debuts as well. So, we are very happy with all of them.”
Freeman’s opposite number Sean Finnegan admitted that he was nervous before Westmeath’s clash with Longford in last Saturday week. As things transpired, he needn’t have been as Westmeath ran out convincing winners (9-9 to 2-6) at a windswept Mullahoran.
“I have to say I was nervous. Nobody knew where they were really, we had no challenges. We had played very little football and in the first game, you just don’t know what’s going to happen” said the Westmeath manager afterwards.
“We expect a battle royale against Louth and I believe we will have to be at our best to beat them. They are on a good run and we had a chance to watch and study them last weekend. They run up a big score, created many chances and played really well and are clearly well coached.
In Kate Flood they have one the best forwards in the game along with other really good players such as Aine Breen, Niamh Rice and Sarah Quinn and have every right to be confident about Sunday.
We will prepare for this game the same as we always do and will be treating this game as a knock-out tie knowing anything can happen in championship football. It’s 15 v 15 and we will try to use the experience we gained from playing Div 1 football to get us the win. We have lost a few players to injury but thankfully we have a strong squad as the replacements have done really well when called upon.” added the Mayo native.
Preview by Dermot Woods
Photos by Warren Matthews