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'Maybe some players are thinking, 'What's wrong with us?'' - Westmeath star on McDonagh Cup coverage

Tommy Doyle is hoping to captain his county to Croke Park glory on Sunday.

Westmeath captain Tommy Doyle
Westmeath captain Tommy Doyle
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

THE LOB-SIDED nature of last weekend’s provincial football finals prompted a predictable discussion around the merits of bringing a two-tier format into the football championship.

By being moved into a ‘B’ competition, the lower tier counties are at risk of being cut further adrift in terms of sponsorship and media coverage. The recent grievances aired by the Kildare and Antrim hurling panels highlights the discontent felt by many players in hurling’s lower echelons.

Westmeath hurlers are a good reference point, considering they competed in the Leinster SHC last season, losing to Offaly in the quarter-final before they found themselves dropped down to the Joe McDonagh Cup for 2018.

A victory on Sunday against Carlow in the McDonagh Cup decider would seal a return for Michael Ryan’s side to the Leinster championship at the expense of the Faithful County.

For a number of the McDonagh Cup opening rounds, the Sunday Game didn’t even read out the results and Westmeath skipper Tommy Doyle admitted he did notice a lack of media coverage.

“You’re a bit disappointed about it especially the first round of the Joe McDonagh – I don’t think there was too many GAA games on that weekend,” he says.

“Just not to hear much about it, maybe some players are thinking, ‘What’s wrong with us?’ We just went out and played our games. There were some great games to be involved in. Great tournament to be involved in.

“I think it was more the talk about it not being there more than anything, that’s all that got louder. Look, we’re getting to play in Croke Park. It’s great to see it on the telly as well, it’s an occasion. I haven’t played here in a long time.”

The profile of the inaugural McDonagh Cup final has been boosted with it taking place as a curtain-raiser ahead of the Galway-Kilkenny Leinster final, giving many players their first taste of Croke Park.

Tommy Doyle with Richard Coady and Diarmuid Byrne Tommy Doyle with Richard Coady and Diarmuid Byrne at the Joe McDonagh Cup final media event Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Doyle’s last game at headquarters was a decade ago with a Westmeath U15 development squad. Incidentally, Carlow were one of their opponents that day and they’ve become familiar foes this year.

Sunday will be the fourth meeting between the sides this season, with Carlow winning the match-up 2-1 so far:

Division 2A round 1: Carlow 0-15 Westmeath 0-19 (28 January)
Division 2A final: Carlow 2-19 Westmeath 2-12 (24 March)
Joe McDonagh Cup round 5: Carlow 3-21 Westmeath 1-21 (9 June)

It must be noted that Westmeath had already secured their place in the McDonagh Cup final prior to the final round of games.

The Division 2A final defeat was a huge setback for Westmeath and the seven-point deficit flattered them on a day where Ryan’s men never got out of the blocks.

“It was very disappointing,” says Doyle. “The week after that game was probably one of the hardest weeks we had.

“We went back to our clubs and got back our enjoyment for playing. The first session back (with Westmeath) in the first huddle it was said that it wasn’t good enough and we had to lift our game.

“Carlow, going into that final, I think they lost the two previous finals. Maybe it gave them the edge, it just felt like they had that bit of hunger that we didn’t match that day and they fully deserved the win.

“We’ve had great battles. That’s the best thing about it. It probably even scores over the last four or five years I’ve been playing. There’s never too much between it and you enjoy playing them big games.

“Carlow are a good team with some great players on that team. We look forward to playing them, I hope they enjoy playing us as much.”

Seamus Callanan and Shane Power Seamus Callanan is tackled by Westmeath's Shane Power Source: Ken Sutton/INPHO

Doyle can consider himself extremely unlucky not to have been at least nominated for an All-Star last season, after a campaign where he shone not least by keeping Seamus Callanan scoreless from play in their qualifier clash against Tipperary.

“You want to see what you’re like against the best,” he says of taking on Callanan.

“There’s no point thinking about it or talking about it later on when you’re not playing. You want to test yourself against the best, see how good you are, how far you are away and see how close you are.

“It was one good game, it won’t save a season. We need plenty more of them from more of our players.”

And Doyle holds no fear about coming up against Seamus Flanagan or Conor McDonald, depending on who Westmeath draw in the All-Ireland preliminary quarter-finals.

“I’ve marked two or three of them already in college hurling. We played Limerick twice two or three years ago, we played Wexford as well. They’re the match-ups you want, as I said before you want to see what you’re like against the best. They are the very best at the minute. We look forward to it.

Richard Coady and Diarmuid Byrne lift the trophy Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Alan Cox, Liam Varley and Eoin Price dejected Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“We had a meeting in the dressing room before we played Tipperary and the players were asked what they felt of the draw. The lads were mad for it. These are the games you’re mad for.

“So I’ve marked a few of them before and you always bump into these in college games and we’ve had a game in the qualifiers against Limerick and we played Wexford in the Leinster championship a few years ago as well.

“I just love being involved in them big games. Win, lose or draw Sunday week we’re going to have another big game after that. We look forward to both games just as much, it’s great to be involved.”

The McDonagh Cup final throws-in just 15 minutes before the Munster hurling decider, and Doyle admits it’s a game he’d like to watch.

“I wouldn’t mind seeing the Munster final myself to be honest, that’s the only thing. We’re involved in Leinster final day, it’s great to be involved and you’re only looking forward to it now. It won’t bother us too much now.”

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Kevin O'Brien

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