Westmeath have to make home advantage count against Padraic Joyce’s Galway after Armagh loss

Veteran John Heslin relishing Championship intensity as Midlanders prepare for Tribesmen visit

John Heslin can expect to find Padraig Faulkner for company when Westmeath take on Cavan at Croke Park today. Picture by Philip Walsh
John Heslin scored three points in a losing cause against Armagh last Saturday. Picture by Philip Walsh

ARMAGH bounced back from their Ulster final loss and the challenge for Westmeath is to do the same against Galway on Sunday, says John Heslin.

The St Loman’s veteran scored three points for the Midlanders in a losing cause at the Athletic Grounds last weekend and to have a realistic chance of making the knockout stage Westmeath now need to make home advantage count against Padraic Joyce’s Tribesmen on Sunday.

Connacht champions Galway began Group One with victory against Derry (Armagh’s opponents on Sunday) and they can confirm their qualification for the next phase with two more points. The fixture schedule has its critics, but Heslin enjoys having the games coming thick and fast.

“That’s the beauty of this structure – we’re playing again next weekend,” said Heslin after Saturday’s five-point defeat at The Athletic Grounds.

“You don’t have too long to dwell on the defeat. You have to take the learnings from it, see if you can improve on them and go forward to the next challenge which we’re looking forward to.”

Last season Westmeath came within a whisker of beating Armagh in their opener, then pushed Galway all the way in round two and drew with Tyrone in their final group game. Dessie Dolan’s men won Division Three this year but fell at the first hurdle of the Leinster Championship and were outplayed in the second half in Armagh.

Armagh's Greg McCabe bursts through a tackle from Westmeath's James Dolan. Picture: John Merry
Armagh's Greg McCabe bursts through a tackle from Westmeath's James Dolan. Picture: John Merry (J_Merry)

“Armagh are a good side – they were very unlucky in the Ulster final so we knew we were going to be up against it,” said Heslin.

“We did our best but when you make mistakes at this level the opposition counters on them and that’s where Armagh prospered – we had too many mistakes in the first half and that cost us in the end. There were five points in it and we left five points behind us but it’s good for us, it’s good experience for a lot of young lads on the panel and we’ll build and look forward to next weekend.

“At least we can take confidence that we’re good enough for this level but you need to execute your opportunities when you’re playing at this level and that’s the difference.

“That can happen to the best of teams but we’ll take this into next weekend and build on it for the Galway game.”

Armagh went into the game under a too-familiar cloud after losing the Ulster final on penalties against Donegal. They led Westmeath by a point at half-time but produced their best football of the game in the first 10 minutes of the second half before dropping back into a defensive shell and protecting their lead as the visitors struggled to break them down.

Perhaps Armagh could have cut loose and put Westmeath to the sword, but Blaine Hughes saved well from Stephen Smith late on and the Orchardmen won by five points. Heslin was impressed by what he saw from Kieran McGeeney’s side.

“They responded so well to losing to Donegal,” he said.

“They could have been an easier team to beat but they stuck to it and they ground it out and kicked their scores with multiple different scorers from different positions, left and right. Fair dues to them, they got over the line.”