Westmeath favourites to overpower Offaly to reach Tailteann Cup decider
AN All-Ireland semi-final in Croke Park is certainly something to look forward to and both Offaly and Westmeath will surely see it as a huge opportunity to get some silverware, or at least compete in the decider of the Tailteann Cup.
The inaugural year of the second-grade competition has proven a huge success so far and the four teams competing in Sunday's double header won't want their season to come to an end just yet.
Despite playing in a higher division throughout the National League, Offaly head into their showdown with neighbours Westmeath as underdogs. John Maughan's men competed in Division Two but were relegated on the final day, losing to Cork by just one point and only earning one victory against Down throughout the entire campaign.
Offaly will face off against Westmeath in Division Three next season as the men in maroon missed out on promotion, despite beating the two table toppers in Louth and Limerick. Championship football told a different tale however and both sides crashed out of Leinster on the back of very different defeats.
Offaly surprisingly fell at the first hurdle, losing to Wexford by three points, although they gained revenge by the minimum of margins in the preliminary round of the Tailteann Cup. Westmeath on the other hand overcame Longford before seriously testing Glenn Ryan's Kildare in the provincial semi-final.
Despite losing by three in the end, Jack Cooney's side came away with massive credit as they pushed the Lilywhites all the way and showed frailties in Kildare's defence that were later exposed by Dublin in the Leinster final.
In attack, the Lake County are loaded with quality players. John Heslin is the main attraction up top, but he's not on his own. Ronan O'Toole netted after just 12 seconds against Kildare and finished that game with 1-3 all from play.
Luke Loughlin, Sam McCartan and Ger Egan are others worth keeping an eye on in the Westmeath forward line, while Ronan Wallace is the rock of the defence at centre half back.
Offaly have plenty of experience in their ranks as well with Niall McNamee still doing the business in the green white and gold after all these years. 16 years on from helping Offaly reach the Leinster final, McNamee remains the focal point of their attack.
The Rhode sharpshooter nailed 1-5 in that win opening round over the yellow bellies and is currently the competitions top scorer with 1-16 in three games. Anton Sullivan and Ruairi McNamee are others in the Offaly attack that could cause Westmeath some problems.
John Maughan will be minus one of his best defenders however, as veteran corner back Niall Darby is out for the rest of the season having torn his ACL during training on Tuesday night. Youngster Kieran Dolan, who captained the Faithful County to the u20 All-Ireland title last season, will pick up the absent spot in the full back line.
While Cavan's name seems to already be written on the trophy, Westmeath would have been seen as dark horses to challenge from the outset. Jack Cooney will need no reminding of Offaly's talent as the former Rhode boss coached a lot of the squad during his time over the Offaly based club.
Westmeath go into the game as favourites and rightly so and should book their spot in the first ever Tailteann Cup decider.