'A' grade fare central to Dolan's GAA education
TO the outside world Dessie Dolan is the greatest footballer that Westmeath has ever produced.
For the man himself, he gives enormous credit for his football development to his experience playing for St Mel's of Longford in the Leinster Schools Senior 'A' Championship.
Now operating in a teaching role back in Westmeath with Moate CS, he says that knowing that it's nearly time for Senior 'A' football has put a pep in everyone's step.
Dolan says: "I was in St Mel's when Declan Rowley was the football coach and it gave me a great grounding and preparation for county football and showed me the level that teams prepare at if they want to be successful.
"Declan ran a tight ship and I learned a lot from that time.
"We got to a Leinster final in '97 with a very good team but Colm O'Rourke's St Pat's of Navan broke our hearts that day.
"It was a great thrill to get to a Leinster final, but it is still a big regret that we didn't win it."
Dolan (pictured) formed a lethal forward partnership at schools level with Donal Brennan where they were known as the Terrible Twins such was their ability to terrorise defences.
But he also learned from watching older players who would go on to be county team-mates like Martin Flanagan - as well as another boyhood inspiration who left a major mark on a young Dessie.
He added: "Shane McGettigan from Leitrim was a year ahead of me in St Mel's as was Martin Flanagan and I learnt a lot from them.
"Shane was a Prefect in St Mel's and a real gentleman. The way he carried himself both on the field and off it made him a real example to us and also the way he prepared himself and the level of dedication he had.
"He went on to play for Leitrim after and then went away to work in Boston one summer and was tragically killed in an accident - but I will always remember the example he set.
"Martin Flanagan was the greatest footballer I saw play. He was so gifted and could run a match from start to finish. He'd remind me of Dublin's Diarmuid Connolly in his ability to control a match and with his skills and how he wouldn't give a simple pass if there was a better, more complicated and stylish pass on! An exceptional athlete."
Dessie is now a teacher and a sports co-ordinator in Moate Community School which brings him back into Leinster Schools Senior 'A' action and a tough first round clash with St Benildus of Dublin.
He says: "It is a brilliant competition. Studying is the number one for lads, but playing football is also a great outlet for them.
"When you play Senior 'A' in Leinster you know there are no soft teams and the standard is very high.
"You don't get anything easy and that's why it will stand to you. You have got to push to prove yourself, the pitches can be tough to play on, and it really develops you as a player.
"You also see lads who mightn't have been the best player early on in school but who work hard and improve to make teams later on."