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Colm Kelly has been appointed Westmeath manager for the 2018 season with the Louth native taking over from Tom Cribbin.

I thought it was a positive move when Cribbin resigned, but my thoughts changed dramatically when I saw the caliber of candidates lined up to replace him. It’s a sad state of affairs when Kelly and former Wicklow manager Johnny McGee are seen as the best options available, especially when some of the names originally touted for the job were Anthony Cunningham, Luke Dempsey and Pete McGrath.

It was also a shame no local candidates were in the running, with Jack Cooney, John Keane and Dempsey all quality managers. Kelly did a reasonably good job with Louth, winning back to back promotions but that wasn’t good enough for Pat Flanagan to keep his job, as he got the Lake County from Division 3 to Division 1 and was just a whisker away from eliminating Jack O’Connor’s Kerry from the championship in 2012.

Flanagan can feel he was treated very unfairly as can Tom Cribbin following back to back Leinster finals. His record in Leinster was outstanding, as no team other than Dublin defeated Westmeath in his 3 years in charge.

We can compare Kelly and Cribbin’s record across a 3 year period from 2015 to 2017, with both managers in charge of Louth and Westmeath respectively during that time. In Kelly’s first year in charge they were demoted from Division 3 to Division 4, and lost to Westmeath in the Leinster championship before losing to Tipperary by 23 points in the qualifiers. Westmeath were relegated from Division 2 but they regrouped to beat Louth, Wexford and Meath for the first time ever in the championship, before losing to Dublin and Fermanagh.

In 2016 Westmeath were relegated to Division 4 of the League, whilst Kelly had success with Louth in getting promotion from the bottom division, but again it was Cribbin’s Westmeath who did better in the championship, overcoming Offaly and Kildare before losing to Dublin again and narrowly to Mayo, with both sides later competing in the All-Ireland final. Louth on the other hand, overcame Carlow, but went on to lose against Meath and Derry.

In 2017 both sides gained promotion, from Division 3 and Division 4 respectively, but again Westmeath would go on to have a better championship, beating local rivals Offaly. They then were hammered by Dublin, before being narrowly overcome by Armagh in the qualifiers. Louth, on the other hand, overcame Wicklow, before losing to Meath and then Longford in Drogheda. That Longford defeat was a massive setback for Louth, and Kelly resigned soon afterwards.

These comparison’s show that there was very little between the two managers, with Cribbin’s record in the championship far superior to the Clogherhead native. Louth had defeated Westmeath in the championship in 2014 prior to Cribbin’s takeover but they have lost numerous players since so it’s hard to determine what level they are at.

I wish Colin Kelly all the best as Westmeath manager in 2018 and have no doubt he is a good manager, but is he any better than some of the Westmeath based managers? I don’t think so. It’s with regret that I see John Keane has stepped down as under 21 manager as he has had a fantastic season with the group along, with his backroom team of Fergal Wilson, Garry Connaughton and  Eamon Gallagher.

Kelly is set to take charge of both the senior and under 21 sides for 2018 and with the likes of John Heslin in the team, supplemented with footballers such as Ger Egan, Kieran Martin and John Connellan, there’s definitely potential there. Hopefully Kelly will get the best out of the team and Westmeath will reach another Leinster final, after being drawn on the opposite side of the draw to Dublin. If we can maintain our Division 3 status, win the Leinster quarter final and put up a good Leinster semi-final performance, followed up with a good qualifier display, it will have been a relatively positive campaign.

There is enough potential in the squad for that to happen but is Kelly the right man to unleash it? We’ll have to wait and see.

Conor McKenna

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