Wednesday 13 December 2017

Alan Brogan: Páidí's passion saw us caught cold

Westmeath had quality players in 2004, but it was their manager who made all the difference

Paidí Ó Sé and Tomas O'Flaharta celebrate their Leinster final win in 2004
Paidí Ó Sé and Tomas O'Flaharta celebrate their Leinster final win in 2004
‘I remember how myself and Jason Sherlock had been working very hard on our movement in the two corners and it clicked for us in the first half'. Photo: Sportsfile

Alan Brogan

Going into the Leinster quarter-final against Westmeath in 2004, I never thought for a second we would lose the match. Maybe it was naïve on my part, as in hindsight it was plain to see not everything was rosy in the Dublin camp. The wheels had started to fall off the Tommy Lyons wagon and some of the older guys on the panel were not happy with how the previous year had gone for us. When a little rot sets in like that, it isn't until extreme pressure comes on that the cracks are exposed.

We started brightly that day with myself and Jason Sherlock kicking three points each in the first half. I remember how we had been working very hard on our movement in the two corners and it clicked for us in the first half.

Páidí O'Sé. Photo: Sportsfile
Páidí O'Sé. Photo: Sportsfile

We were practically untouchable, but Westmeath hung in there. In the years before that and in some of the years since, Westmeath would have folded and I can only presume it was the belief Páidí Ó Sé had instilled in them that kept them fighting and still in the game at half-time.

We have subsequently seen the clips of Páidí preparing the Westmeath team for this game. Don't get me wrong, they had some great players at that time - the likes of Dessie Dolan, Gary Connaughton and Rory O'Connell. They had also had some pretty impressive underage success in the few years prior and maybe they were ready to win a big game like that. But I can't help thinking they wouldn't have beaten us without the influence of Páidí.

You could see what it meant to him that day, snarling up and down the sideline, he would have played himself if he could. Playing the Dubs in Croke Park as an underdog - he was thriving, he loved every second of it.

We had done enough in the first half to make Westmeath think that maybe they were out of their depth. We led by three at half-time, but after the break you could see Páidí's influence. They were unrelenting, never giving us a second to play and we weren't ready for it. We thought they would roll over but the belief Páidí had instilled drove them on and they cracked us going into injury time.

Joe Fallon kicked a great score to put them one ahead and then Paul Conway fielded a high ball on our 21-yard line, with about three or four of our lads around him, and swung it over. That score summed up the gulf in hunger and desire between the two teams in the second half.

I remember chatting to Pillar Caffrey, who was a selector at the time, and asking him 'how did that happen?'. His response was that we let it happen, but I'm not so sure. I'm more inclined to think that Páidí made it happen. I read an article his nephew Tomás wrote about managers recently, and about how the greatest skill is the ability to inspire and make a team believe. There may be a bit of 'madness' mixed in there too.

He mentioned Páidí and Davy Fitz, and it's clear those guys have that talent to inspire. In the white heat of Croke Park with the game in the balance, players can become 10 feet tall or they can shrink and roll over. A manager can't tell a guy before taking the field to believe - it doesn't work like that. Such belief has to be etched into his mind, into his psyche, in the weeks, months and even years before that. It is an ongoing process that has to take place at every session, every meeting, every day.

In talking and listening to some of the Westmeath players in the years since that game, it's clear to see how Páidí made them feel. He etched it into their minds that the Dubs were not superior to them. It surely was one of his greatest achievements as a player or manager and forever more he deserves saint-like status for what he helped give the people of Westmeath that year.

It was a dark day for Dublin football, not only because of the defeat but also because of the reaction of a minority of Dublin fans. The abuse players, and in particular Tommy Lyons, took in the immediate aftermath of that game was wrong.

Similar to Páidí, Tommy was a manager who worked damn hard to make his players believe they were the best and it hadn't been long since 2002, when we had blazed a summer trail, only missing out on an All-Ireland final by the width of a post.

I played with a lot of the guys on that 2004 team for a long time and that was one of our most painful defeats. It hurt a lot to lose a Leinster quarter-final that ultimately saw the end of Tommy's reign, but I think it hurt Dublin more that their great adversary Páidí Ó Sé had got one over us. The Dublin players learnt a lot from it and we responded well, going on to win the next five Leinster Championships.

Today, Westmeath maybe don't have the players of the stature of Dolan and O'Connell, but they have been consistently competitive in the Leinster Championship. They know this a step up in class but they shouldn't fear going to Croke Park.

The same and more of what we saw in 2004 will be required from them to have a chance, but there is no doubt that stranger things have happened. It's rare that Dublin's attitude hasn't been spot on under Jim Gavin, but they have had distractions,including Diarmuid Connolly's suspension and talk of Kildare's resurgence.

Westmeath could make inroads into Dublin's patchy form if the focus from Gavin's troops isn't spot on.

Páidí doesn't prowl the sidelines anymore, but in Tom Cribbin Westmeath have a capable manager who will be doing his utmost to harness some of that unrelenting belief Páidí generated in teams he coached. This is the only way, when Dublin turn the screw, that Westmeath will be able to live with the heat like they did in 2004.

PS: Dessie Dolan will be inducted into the Leinster GAA Hall of Fame this afternoon. He was one of the great forwards of his era and I'm sure Hill 16 will give him the ovation he thoroughly deserves. Congrats Dessie.

Westmeath's Wonder Year

Leinster championship

1st Round, May 23, Croke Park

Westmeath 0-11, Offaly 0-10

Quarter-Final, June 6, Croke Park

Westmeath 0-14, Dublin 0-12

Semi-Final, June 27, Croke Park

Westmeath 2-15, Wexford 1-14

Final, July 18, Croke Park

Westmeath 0-13, Laois 0-13

Final Replay, July 24, Croke Park

Westmeath 0-12, Laois 0-10

All-Ireland Quarter-Final, August 14, Croke Park

Derry 2-9, Westmeath 0-13

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