When Westmeath and Offaly clashed in the opening round-robin fixture of last year’s Leinster Senior Hurling Championship at TEG Cusasck Park, the 2-22 to 1-11 victory for the home side sent shockwaves around the province.
Ultimately, both counties progressed from the four team group to the quarter-finals, where Offaly defeated Laois and Westmeath lost out to Galway.
Now these local rivals meet again with a semi-final place against Dublin or Galway up for grabs.
Westmeath haven’t yet shown the type of blistering form which saw them top the round-robin group 12 months ago. Indeed, one win from three outings was enough to see them through on score-difference.
Defeats to Laois and Kerry in the opening two rounds could have proven fatal, had they not struck for two late goals in each of those outings. So with Laois defeating Kerry in Tralee, Westmeath only had to overcome Meath on home soil to go through, and they duly delivered by 1-18 to 0-19.
Probably the stand-out statistic for Michael Ryan’s side is that they’ve only conceded one goal in three matches, with Tommy Doyle yet again a tower of strength at full back and Paul Greville in top form at centre back. Captain Aonghus Clarke has also been one of their most consistent players this season.
Offaly are led this season by the experienced Sean Ryan, a whole-hearted player who will drive on his team-mates. In his first year in charge, Kevin Ryan succeeded in maintaining Offaly’s status in Division 1B, though they couldn’t cope with Tipperary’s all-round ability in the Allianz League quarter-final. Scoring responsibility will fall on the shoulders of Shane Dooley, while it’s hoped Joe Bergin will return from injury.