Mangan hoping Westmeath work will pay off
HE still regards the 2004 All-Ireland quarter-final against Derry as 'the one that got away,' but former Westmeath star Alan Mangan returns to Croke Park in a very different role on Sunday.
Mangan and co-manager Peter Leahy have led the Westmeath women footballers to the TG4 All-Ireland intermediate decider against Cavan, 24 years after they last contested a final.
It is going to be a particularly hectic few hours for Mangan. The women's game starts at 2.0 and, win or lose, he'll be dashing home immediately to play with Castletown-Geoghegan in the county SHC semi-final at 5.30.
That game originally also had a 2.0 throw-in, which he managed to get changed, but he still argues there should be no big games in the county on the same day that their female stars are contesting an All-Ireland final.
The Lake County women have surprised a lot of people, winning their first league title (Division 3), followed by a first Leinster title and then knocking out reigning junior champions Limerick in the All-Ireland semi-finals. Mangan is confident that Sunday's result will be nothing like what happened on his managerial debut, also against Cavan.
"Myself and Peter took over a few games into the league last year and our first game was down in Mullahoran. We were beaten by about 43 points! My initial reaction was: 'What am I getting myself into?' But since then they've just got better and better," he said.
He has tested their dedication with three training sessions a week, including a 9.0 start on Saturdays or Sundays. It's not quite the 7.0 starts that Paidi O Se introduced in Westmeath that Mangan credits with helping them to win the Leinster title in 2004, but it's still a big ask of players who haven't yet won anything.
Coming from five points down at half-time and containing Limerick to just 0-2 in the second half really laid down a marker.
"Limerick had Dympna O'Brien, a phenomenal player. She scored 2-8 in the previous game," Mangan said. "But we came back out and scored 1-7 without reply. O'Brien got sin-binned but I still think we'd have won even if she'd stayed on the pitch."
Westmeath have already beaten Cavan in the first round of the group stages but the Breffni girls were without several of their star players that day, including Donna English.
Ruth Kearney and Emma Morris lead Westmeath's attack and their squad includes Sarah Dolan and Fiona Claffey, both first cousins of Dessie Dolan. However, Mangan stressed that his side doesn't have a female equivalent of Dolan or Denis Glennon.
"We don't have one outstanding player because all of our players are as good as one another," he said.