Sean McGoldrick: A missed opportunity by RTÉ as Fortune favours the brave in Westmeath
Players performances are micro-analysed. They are fearful of making a mistake, so they buy into the cautious mindset.
IT WAS a shame the Sunday Game didn’t lead off with highlights from the historic Westmeath v Wexford Leinster hurling championship match.
Judged by any criteria, Westmeath’s victory over Wexford was momentous.
Essentially, their destiny is now in their own hands: beat Antrim at home on Sunday and they will be playing in the Leinster championship in 2024, even if Wexford beat Kilkenny.
Granted, in terms of excitement and arguably standards, the Leinster series has lagged behind its Munster counterpart this season.
But the Clare and Cork, and Tipperary v Limerick ties had already been televised live on Sunday afternoon.
Surely, the story of the day was Westmeath’s comeback, away from home, after being 17 points behind after 32 minutes. A missed opportunity on the part of RTÉ.
It has been quite the season for Westmeath. Don’t forget they have already secured their Division 1 league status for next season, having beaten Laois in the relegation play-off in March.
Their Wexford-born, Dublin-based manager Joe Fortune is a worthy contender for Manager of the Year.
It was his comments after the game which caught my eye.
“It’s a great day for Westmeath hurling. My mother lives just 25 minutes up the road from here, so I know what hurling means to Wexford, being a native,” said Fortune, who was a selector on their U-20 team just two years ago.
So, what did he say at half-time?
“I was just really honest with them. I said: ‘we have nothing to lose in the second half, we have families and supporters coming down here’ and I just felt we were embarrassing in the first half. I just felt we were too restricted in our play.
“I said that ‘there are people down here that are paying their good money, and do you want to leave a legacy as the best Westmeath team ever?’ It was the first time in the dressing room that I felt ‘Was I a bit too harsh with them?’
“I said: ‘just go and hurl for the second half and cut (out) these things of systems and shapes and puck-outs’. We’re hurling people and the more you get caught up in these systems and set-ups, go and hurl and be a man and get the ball in the quick and let our forwards do the job.”
According to the Irish Independent, Fortune smashed his tactics board in frustration during the break. But his team talk worked. The players did precisely what they were told – they threw caution to the wind.
Granted they left it late, but it all came together in a sensational finish.
Substitute Niall Mitchell grabbed two goals in injury time, to leave shell-shocked Wexford within touching distance of the Joe McDonagh trapdoor.
Modern-day inter-county football and hurling is now characterised by extreme caution and a lack of risk taking.
For spectators it is soul-destroying, while the armchair fans will probably entertain themselves by channel-hopping until about the hour mark in the game.
And I’m sure it is not too much fun for the players either.
Their performances are micro-analysed. They are fearful of making a mistake or giving the ball away. So, they buy into the cautious mindset.
With nothing to lose Westmeath cut loose last Sunday and the outcome was better than they could have dared to dream.
Maybe, other teams should follow Westmeath’s example. Armagh footballers are a case in point.
At the start of extra time in the Ulster final Derry were down to 14 men, as Brendan Rogers was in the sin bin.
Kieran McGeeney’s side won the throw-in – and Ross McQuillan put them in front for the first time in the match.
Self-evidently the momentum is now with them, but they fail miserably to capitalise. They didn’t score again during the remaining eight minutes Rogers was on off the field.
Ultimately they did go two points up in the second half of extra time before Shane McGuigan single-handedly dragged Derry back into the tie – and, of course, the defending champions eventually won on penalties.
None of the Armagh players have an Ulster championship medal, and they may now have missed their best chance of winning one. They may live to regret their cautiousness in the first half of extra time for the rest of their careers.
As the championship heats up in the coming weeks, perhaps more counties ought to consider throwing caution to the wind as Westmeath done.
In sporting terms, surely it is better to die on your feet than live on your knees.
'vacuous vanity' | Love Island is a ‘better looking Daíl’ with betrayal and backstabbing
Recovery | Doireann Garrihy’s boyfriend Mark Mehigan opens up about his struggles with alcoholism
GUILTY PLEAS | Man (32) jailed for life after killing three generations of one family in horror fire
love match | Joanna Cooper says wedding to rugby star Conor Murray was ‘best day of our lives’
Burrow brawl | Minister for Justice needs to ‘ramp up’ number of Gardaí after beach fight says TD
summer's here | More sun today as Met Éireann pinpoints hottest area after warmest day of the year so far
Conor cruises | Conor McGregor enjoys life on the ocean wave as he takes family on cruise around the Med
CRASH AND BYRNE | Gang boss Liam Byrne faces lengthy jail term after arrest on secret Spanish trip
CRIME WORLD | Episode 296: The arrest of senior Kinahan cartel member Liam Byrne
fresh fears | Mum of murdered Irish backpacker fears suspect will escape justice after prison attack