Westmeath can claim first Joe McDonagh Cup over rivals Carlow
Joe McDonagh Cup final: Westmeath v Carlow (tomorrow, Croke Park, 1.45pm)
CARLOW may hold the upper hand over Westmeath in previous meetings this year – but Michael Ryan's men appear primed to even up the score in tomorrow's inaugural Joe McDonagh Cup final at Croke Park.
Tomorrow will be the fourth meeting this season between the two counties with Carlow holding a 2-1 advantage.
Westmeath beat them in their opening NHL Division 2A game of the season before Carlow gained revenge in the League decider.
The pair met again in the last round of games in the Joe McDonagh round robin but Westmeath had already qualified for the decider and it was no surprise they lost by six points in Carlow.
Serving as a curtain-raiser to the Leinster final tomorrow, the two minnows of the province are already on bonus territory.
Regardless of tomorrow's outcome, Carlow and Westmeath will enter the All-Ireland series where they will face Wexford or Limerick next Saturday, while the winners of the McDonagh final will compete in the Leinster SHC at the expense of Offaly next season.
Carlow are a tough, aggressive side but the feeling is Westmeath have more natural talent, evidenced by their superb victory over Antrim in Mullingar on June 2, and the open spaces will suit their expansive style.
Allan Devine is one of the best free-takers in the country and never missed a placed ball all afternoon against the Ulstermen while Tommy Coyle, an Allstar nominee last season, is a reassuring presence at full-back.
In front of Coyle, Liam Varley and Paul Greville lead an impressive half-back line.
Carlow, though, are always an obdurate opponent and have plenty of experience in their ranks especially in Denis Murphy and Diarmuid Byrne.
But Westmeath are expected to take the spoils.