Hackett in for the long haul with Westmeath
WESTMEATH manager Brendan Hackett was a long time out of football management before taking up his present post, but he believes he has landed the ideal project in the Lake County.
And that's despite the fact that his charges have made a horrible start to their campaign back in Division 2.
Last Saturday night, Westmeath were within a hair's breath of recording an all-too-rare win over Meath, but came away with nothing. It doesn't get any easier as another local rival, fellow strugglers Laois, travel to Mullingar tomorrow as Westmeath look to pick up their first points of the campaign.
"It's a long-term thing," said Hackett. "We're here for three years. Westmeath had a very good team there for a number of years that won Leinster and played in Division 1 but that is coming to an end now.
"In smaller counties, it's easy to keep picking the same players and maybe other lads don't get brought through. But this is the challenge now and that's what we're here to do."
Before this year's O'Byrne Cup campaign, Hackett hadn't donned the Bainisteoir bib since he was in charge of Offaly in 1992. Ironically, it was a GAA scholarship for a degree in sports psychology that took his career in a different path entirely.
Back then, sports psychology in the GAA amounted to little more than a rousing team talk before throw-in, so Hackett explored the subject in other sports, like boxing and athletics, and eventually rose to become the CEO of Athletics Ireland.
He always kept in touch with the GAA, working behind the scenes with a number of county sides but didn't expect to be away from the inter-county scene for so long.
"It was unintentional really. But when I finished up my education I did some work with Eamonn Coghlan -- who was doing the sub-four minute mile for over 40s -- and then with some athletes who went to the Atlanta Olympics and boxers too.
"Sunday is an important one from the point of view that Laois have two points and we have none.
"We were happy enough with parts of last Saturday night but know there is much to work on."
The absence of Dessie Dolan and Denis Glennon continues to dominate discussion in the county and while Hackett described his panel as open, there was little hint that the exiled duo would be continuously pursued to change their mind.
In all, just four of the 2004 Leinster winning side (Gary Connaughton, Donal O'Donoughue, Damien Healy and Michael Ennis) were named in the programme to face Meath last week but Hackett is confident that there is more talent to be found in the county.
"Because of the weather, we only had about two proper trials in January," said Hackett, who runs Motions Health and Fitness.
"And the county leagues start in the next couple of weeks so there is a lot more out there. People will come and go from the panel. In that sense, the GAA is different in that you can't make players come in or go but if they are going well they will always be given an opportunity."
Hackett was handed the job after making an impressive presentation to the County Board about his vision for the future of football in the county. That vision expanded beyond just managing the county's senior footballers.
He has taken on the U-21 side who have Leinster championship wins over Kildare and Meath already under their belt, and intends to help 'coach the coaches' so that standards will improve throughout the county.
He is also entertaining the notion of dual players with Paul Greville and Philip Gilsenan lining out for both codes at county level.
However, like every other manager in the country, he will be judged on results but he is confident that he will be given the time to put his strategies in place.
"Westmeath have a tradition of longevity with their managers. The people in the county board know that we are trying to look at the bigger picture. They will allow things to develop and that's what we are trying to do here."