Darren Gleeson dismisses “soft talk” after Westmeath defeat

Eoghan Campbell
Antrim's Eoghan Campbell is chased by Westmeath's Shane McGovern, Conor Gaffney and Aaron Craig in Cusack Park Picture: Seamus Loughan (seamus loughran)
Allianz National Hurling League Division 1B: Westmeath 2-18 Antrim 1-15

From Brendan Crossan in Mullingar

IN the cool, grey corridors of Cusack Park, Darren Gleeson reminded reporters that it was Mother’s Day on Sunday and that all the “soft talk” should be reserved for that.

In other words, he wasn’t cutting himself or his players any slack having watched his Antrim side lose their fourth consecutive game on the bounce in Division 1B and are almost certain to finish bottom.

The conditions were poor. The fading light. Threadbare squad. Injuries. Absentees. Things will be better for the Championship.

Gleeson wasn’t in the mood for a counselling session from reporters as they gently lobbed a series of soft-ball questions in the direction of the Tipperary man who wasn’t at all happy with his side’s display and six-point loss to Westmeath.

“Ah no, it’s Mother’s Day on Sunday,” he said.

“That’s something your mother would tell you and wrap her arm around you. We are where we are. No margins. That’s soft talk. That’s the reality of it. You have who you have - and you hurl with who you have.”

He added: “The conditions weren’t tricky at all. I wouldn’t blame conditions, light, anything like that. It was the same for Westmeath as it was for us. The best team won the game.

“We were the second-best team. I don’t think it was for lack of effort; it was just execution.

“We’ll go to the field on Tuesday night and that’s the next time we have the chance to improve and we have to make those days count. We didn’t improve today. That’s our level.”

Joe Fortune
Westmeath manager Joe Fortune Picture: Seamus Loughran (seamus loughran)

Antrim will round off a disappointing League campaign at home to Tipperary next weekend before giving their full focus to the Leinster SHC opener with Kilkenny on April 21.

By that stage, the Antrim team-sheet should be bolstered by some familiar faces, but Gleeson didn’t look for or take any solace from the day. They’d suck this defeat up and get ready for Tipp.

With their first two points banked in the division, Westmeath travel to face Dublin with the hope of nailing fourth place. If Gleeson was bitterly disappointed with his side’s display – Joe Fortune wasn’t too enamoured with Westmeath’s either.

Asked if Saturday’s win represented progress, the Westmeath manager replied: “I think the result does. The performance? Probably not because I thought we were better against Limerick and Tipperary than we were today. And that’s not me being a hard taskmaster – the lads themselves have high standards.

“But I didn’t think we were firing today but to eke out a result against a quality side like Antrim – I know they’re missing a few lads, and a few have stepped away, but a few lads have stepped away from us too. It’s hard. I know how Darren feels at times. It’s not an easy station especially when he’s made so much progress over the last four or five years. So, is it progress for us? Yes. Am I happy with the performance? No.”

A fortuitous 23rd minute goal from Eoin Keyes and a second major from substitute Davy Glennon on the hour mark helped Westmeath claim the spoils against their weakened visitors.

But Fortune noted: “The narrative will be built around the Dunloy lads [Ryan Elliott, Seaan Elliott, Nigel Elliott and Keelan Molloy] stepping away from Antrim but 14 of the team that started played against Dublin - and they should have beaten Dublin.”

Like Gleeson, Fortune wasn’t affording himself a lot of margin for error. After dropping out of the Leinster SHC last summer following a loss to Antrim, the Westmeath manager knows what’s required of him and his team this year.

“It doesn’t matter if we beat Antrim and Dublin,” he said. “If we don’t win a Joe McDonagh my job is not done.”