Westmeath captain Kevin Maguire in action against Offaly's Johnny Moloney during the recent Tailteann Cup semi-final at Croke Park. Photo: John McCauley

Cavan will be 'a tough team to beat' – Maguire

Westmeath senior football captain Kevin Maguire is in confident mood ahead of Saturday’s inaugural Tailteann Cup final, and the Caulry clubman says that this confidence has permeated the entire camp, fuelled by the momentum of recent results.

“There has been a good build-up to this game. I think the last couple of games have seen us improve, and sort some things out in our setup, and just become confident in the way we play our football. I think we’ve really enjoyed it,” Maguire said.

“In the build-up to this match, we’re all really looking forward to it. You can see it in the team, and in training. There’s a good bite and a good buzz to everything. We’re just going to enjoy the run-in now, get some homework done and get focused on Cavan.”

From the outset, both Westmeath and Cavan were the pundits’ favourites to reach the final of the fledgling tournament, if they avoided each other in the knockout stages. Maguire is expecting a stern test from the Breffni men befitting the occasion.

“We’ve played Cavan a few times over the last couple of years in challenge games and league matches. Every time we play them we find they’re tough, strong opposition,” he said. “They play good football and they’re deservedly in the final.

“I think they’ve proven, even a couple of years ago in Ulster, that they’re really capable of performing at a really high level. We definitely have our work cut out for us. They’ll be a tough team to beat. We’ve kind of taken it game by game; we haven’t really had Cavan in the headlights at all.

“We started off with Laois, and that was as much of a big hurdle for us to get over, considering the performances we’ve had against Laois over the past few years. It’s been kind of neck and neck both ways. So we’ve just progressed and taken each team as they came.

“But Cavan are a very good side, and we’ve a lot of work to do to get prepared for them.”

The aforementioned pundits were sceptical at the outset about how the Tailteann Cup would advance the footballing fortunes of counties like Westmeath, but Maguire insists that the players’ perception of the competition has been overwhelmingly positive.

“I can only speak for our team. From the day we lost to Kildare, we took a couple of days to get our heads back into the game. But when we met up as a group again, everybody was tuned into it, and everybody really wanted it,” said Maguire, a teacher by trade who is principal of Glenasmole NS in south Dublin.

“We just reset our goals and haven’t looked back since. I suppose it’s easy for us to say, when we’re in the position we are now, that we’ve enjoyed it and done well in the games, and had some success from it so far. But I do think it has been beneficial for all those teams who would have finished up early in the year. It gives us a little bit more of an opportunity.

“There’s silverware in reach, and it gives teams more of a chance to perform at a high level, in front of big crowds and at Croke Park. That all really adds up, and there are a lot of lads on our panel who got blooded this year in big games at Croke Park who mightn’t have been if the Tailteann Cup didn’t exist. So that’ll stand to us next year, which we are working towards.”

Maguire lined out at centr -half-back the last time Westmeath played a competitive match against Cavan, all the way back in February 2020. On that occasion, the Lake County lost by four after a late Cavan rally. The Breffni men went on to win an Ulster title later that year.

“We haven’t really done much homework on Cavan since,” Maguire added. “We played them in a couple of challenge matches.

“They seem to have tall, strong, hardy footballers. They have a good inside line and a very good goalkeeper, so they have all they require to make a good game out of this the next day.

“We’ll just have to make sure we get our match-ups right and that we can perform on the day.”