Saturday 21 July 2018

Páidí, over 14,000 at an O'Byrne Cup final and Westmeath's breakthrough year

Paidi O'Se. Photo: David Maher / Sportsfile
Paidi O'Se. Photo: David Maher / Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

January afternoons are generally not for setting records but that's exactly what Westmeath and Meath managed back in 2004.

It's the O'Byrne Cup final of that year and the Meath and Westmeath rivalry has a renewed significance. It's only three years since the Royals contested an All-Ireland final but Westmeath have come close to recording a first championship win over their near neighbours in the previous few seasons.

And, most significantly, the Páidí ó Sé factor has kicked in all over Westmeath, sending the county into overdrive.

So when the pre-season final threw up a chance to record an all-too-rare win over Meath, supporters flocked to Cusack Park. In all, 14,612 turned up at the Mullingar venue, and only a fraction of that figure will turn up in Portlaoise for tomorrow's decider between the counties. That final 14 years ago remains the highest attendance Cusack Park has ever hosted.

Denis Glennon retired over the close season but his inter-county career was only a few weeks old by then. That day, he left the field by stretcher.

"I did get knocked out at the end of the game, I was stretchered off," Glennon recalls. "(Anthony) Moyles got me. It was the old-school type football where you go through the man to get the ball back then and he certainly went through me! I remember the hype going into the game.

"It was Meath-Westmeath, a big rivalry and over the previous couple of years Westmeath were probably unlucky not to beat them. And then we had Páidí Ó Sé which brought an awful lot it too as well."

Glennon was only 18 that day. In his inexperience he presumed that thousands of people watching games in January and dozens of curious onlookers at training were the norm.

"I suppose It was my first year on the panel so I didn't know any different at the time. But I did notice at training there was big crowds there. It hasn't happened since really but at the time I didn't know any different. I thought this was part and parcel of inter-county football."

"The one thing I did know is I had respect for the man (ó Sé). The first thing we were told when he came in was that this man had eight All-Ireland medals under his belt and for anyone who is coming up through the GAA, to hear the fella that is going to be over you had been there and done it well you listened in the dressing room. That's what I found with Páidí and I haven't really seen it since that when he started to talk you could hear a pin drop in the dressing room because everyone was tuned in, they wanted to hear everything that came out of his mouth."

Meath would win by a point that day with Joe Sheridan kicking the winner. There were bigger things in store for that Westmeath team later that summer, with Glennon reckoning a league win over Mayo set them up for their historic Leinster success.

"We hadn't won a league match all year but we were in a position where if we beat Mayo we'd stay up and we managed to beat them. We stayed up that year and that set the foundation and I think most of the team that started that day started the rest of the championship."

Glennon is on the outside looking in at Westmeath for the first time since 2003 but he's delighted that he got to be part of the side that finally ended their Meath hoodoo in 2015 with a famous come-from-behind win.

"During my little time with Westmeath I was lucky in that I was a part of Westmeath's most successful period. I was a small cog but when I look back on it, it is something I am very proud of."

Irish Independent

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