Their Leinster championship opener against Carlow may be only a matter of hours away but Westmeath veteran Dessie Dolan was in nostalgic mood earlier this week as RTÉ launched its 2013 championship coverage.
First, there was his senior championship debut, coincidentally against the same opposition on an infamous afternoon in 1999.
“Seven lads got sent off — it was amazing. There was a new yellow-card rule implemented before that championship and the referee took it as if a foul was a yellow and then he ended up sending off seven lads. We had played U21 Championship that May, won the All-Ireland (Westmeath’s first and only); I came on as a sub that day and imagine making your debut and seven lads get sent off. It was crazy.”
Actually ‘only’ six were sent off, four from Carlow, though Noel Barrett flashed yellow cards to 14 players on the day.
Five years later, 2004, on the back of the U21 All-Ireland triumph of 1999, came another breakthrough season for Westmeath and again Dessie was involved. A first (and again, so far the only) Leinster senior title, another memorable season, but all the more so because of the man who led them there – the late and much lamented Páidí Ó Sé. Páidí was Kerry to the marrow but, as with everywhere he went, as with everyone he met, in his short few years with Westmeath he left an indelible impression.
“It’s 10 years next year and it was mental. When we look back at the footage of that, the scenes, it was just amazing. I saw recently someone put an Al Pacino spin on some of his team talks on Youtube but that was the thing with Páidí, it was all about championship. He just loved the championship. I think what appealed to Páidí about Westmeath was that every game we played that year was in Croke Park and he came into his own in Croke Park. For us, we just have memories that will live forever.”
There should have even more memories, even better memories, because that was a team of rare talent. One Leinster title? They were worth more than that, surely. “We had a good team. We got to three All-Ireland quarter-finals but we probably should have built on it a bit more. We were always that bit short, two or three players. When we did win our Leinster title two or three lads left straight away. ”
For the winners of Westmeath and Carlow tomorrow there’s the carrot/threat of a meeting with Dublin in the next round, in Croke Park. Which is it? A little of both, says Dolan. “The reality is when you get into Croke Park it’s a good day, everyone enjoys going to Croke Park. Playing Dublin might be a bit different, they are frightening the way they attack. I’ve watched them a good few times this year, they’re an extremely impressive team, even without the likes of Alan Brogan. They’re taking off Bernard Brogan in games now which is amazing. They just seem to have a wealth of talent.”
First things first though and for Dessie, for Westmeath and for Carlow, it all kicks off tomorrow. The championship is here.
CARLOW: T O’Reily; C Lawler, S Mernagh, BJ Molloy; K Nolan, S Redmond, B Kavanagh; D Foley, J Murphy; Brian Murphy, Brendan Murphy, E Ruth; S Gannon, P Reid, D Hayden.
WESTMEATH: G Connaughton; M McCallon, K Gavin, K Maguire; D Harte, P Sharry, J Gaffey; D Duffy, J Heslin; K Martin, C McCormack, J Dolan; G Egan, D Glennon, D Dolan.
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