Saturday 16 November 2019

Eugene McGee: Westmeath counting cost of Dolan's relative values

Eugene McGee

The apparent confirmation this week that former All Star forward Dessie Dolan will not be playing for Westmeath is a serious blow to his county's chances at a time when football in the Lake County is in quite a fragile state.

The reason for Dolan's absence is because his father, also named Dessie, was not even offered an interview by Westmeath County Board when they went looking for a new team manager last autumn. This was decided in advance, when the Westmeath County Board passed a motion that the new manager had to be from OUTSIDE the county.

Dessie Snr is a former Westmeath and Leinster forward but has also managed club teams to county success. He was manager of Leitrim for several years prior to 2009 where he had many excellent results, particularly in championship games.

Dessie Jnr has taken a very strong stand on this issue and not without some support in the county. He feels very offended that his father was not even granted an interview for the position and, despite the best efforts of the new management in Westmeath -- Brendan Hackett, Paddy Collins, Mattie Fox and Michael 'Spike' Fagan -- he has so far remained adamant that he will not play for the county team.

This is always an extremely difficult stance for any county player to adopt and, regardless of the cause involved -- in this case parental loyalty -- very few players actually follow through to stand by their principles to the hilt.


Dessie Jnr has been a massive contributor to the elevation of Westmeath from the backwoods of Leinster football for many years to winning the provincial title in 2004, achieving Division 1 league status and raising the profile of the county to levels never attained previously. As a secondary teacher, he has always been very popular with young players at the summer camps and he coaches Moate Community School.

In making the decision to absent himself from the Westmeath team, Dessie Jnr is left with few options if he wants to play inter-county football. A player can only play for his home county or another county in which he plays his club football, and several top players have done this.

In recent years, midfielder Thomas Walsh from the Fenagh club in Co Carlow transferred to the Bray Emmets club where he claimed residency and declared for Wicklow, something which caused great controversy. He transferred back to his home parish last year but so far, there is no indication if he intends to revert to playing for Carlow.

There are always players who have to move away from their home clubs for work or other reasons, and they do have an option of playing either for their home county or for the county in which they play their club football -- like Walsh did.

One of the more famous such 'transferees' in modern times was Mick O'Dwyer's son, Karl, who was a teacher in Rathangan in Kildare and declared for and played for the Lilywhites when his father was in charge. As we know, there are no flies on the bould Micko!

Dessie Jnr's home club is Garrycastle on the edge of Athlone, but it's very unlikely that he would leave that club in order to make himself eligible to play for a county team other than Westmeath. Garrycastle made it to the '09 Leinster club final and have ambitions to go further this year.

Interestingly, his first cousin, Frankie Dolan, who starred for Roscommon for many years, did transfer to the Ballymahon club in Longford a few years ago and played a key role as they annexed the Longford senior title. But, despite rumours at the time, Frankie remained loyal to Roscommon even though he would have been in a position to declare for Longford.

So unless Dessie Jnr undergoes a major change of heart, his innate talents will be lost to Westmeath at a time when team rebuilding will be to the fore under the new managerial regime.

Maybe when he gets the sun on his back later in the year he will change his mind, but father and son feelings often run very deep in the GAA so we will have to wait and see. However, the loss of a forward like Dolan from the inter-county scene is a setback for all those who enjoy watching his stylish brand of football.

The biggest movement of players this year will undoubtedly be caused by county players becoming unemployed in their home base and there are three notable recruits to the London football team this year as a result of that. Gary McCluskey has been a key player with Leitrim in recent years but he will be declaring for London, where he now plays his club football.

Eamon McGee from Donegal and Gerald Pierson from Cavan are also working in London now and will be playing for the county team. With a few more additions like those, which seems likely, London could well trouble Roscommon in the Connacht championship in May.

It's only when the third-level student terms end in May that it will become clear how many county players from that category also head abroad, because there will be very little summer work for students given the present depressed state of the economy. Clubs in particular will be severely hit in this way as young men seek work anywhere in the world that they can. Sadly, however, Dessie Jnr HAS work at home but it seems he may well still be missing from the Westmeath football team.

  • It's well recognised that one of the fiercest battlegrounds for the loyalty of teenage boys to GAA games is fought in Dublin's secondary schools, where soccer and rugby often dominate.

The schools that have developed into major GAA nurseries therefore are very important to the Dublin GAA structures. One of those schools is St Declan's CBS Cabra, which celebrate their 50th anniversary on Thursday night with major exhibition games in football and hurling at St Brigid's pitches. Many recent past pupils such as the Brogan brothers, Senan Connell, and Declan and Martin Cahill will participate to honour the achievements of St Declan's down the years.

Irish Independent

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