Alan Mangan top-scored for Westmeath as they won their maiden Leinster title in 2004, and recalls Paidi O Se taking the county on a rollercoaster ride.
BY SHANE STAPLETON
Mick McCarthy’s Sunderland squad sat around looking baffled as the Westmeath players battered each other.
Paidi O Se had whisked away 60 players to Wearside for a training camp in order to narrow down his championship panel for 2004, and prisoners were not being taken.
Black Cats manager Mick McCarthy gave the players a talk one of the mornings, and it was during these few days that the seeds were sown for the Lake County’s greatest day.
The Kerry man had taken over amid a haze of headlines just weeks after parting ways with the Kingdom set-up, and instant success was on his mind.
Senior championship silverware had eluded Westmeath throughout the entirety of their existence, but green shoots had appeared at underage level.
Paidi had watched them beat his native county in the 1999 Under-21 All-Ireland final, for whom his nephew Tomas and other future stars such as Paul Galvin and Aodan MacGearailt played.
Dessie Dolan was part of that midlands crew, while class players such as Denis Glennon, John Keane and Co helped comprise a nicely balanced senior squad by 2004.
To win a first ever Leinster title, Westmeath would have to do it the hard way: beat an Offaly team that had their number for half a century, overturn Dublin, see off Wexford, and dethrone Laois.
“For the first couple of weeks, he was really serious,” says corner-forward Alan Mangan. “Then he picked a panel of 60 and we went over on a trip to Sunderland.
“Mick McCarthy was manager at the time. We went over for the weekend, real serious. We went on a Thursday morning and I never trained as hard as I did on the Thursday and Friday — oh my God, I nearly died!
“It was just horrendous, the stuff we were put through. We got up on Saturday morning again, and he said ‘if ye train hard enough today, we’ll go out tonight’.
“Jaysus, we left nothing inside in the dressing room and that was the first time we seen him with a bit of craic.
“We bonded something shocking over there and he let himself go, he had a good laugh with us.
“He was nearly Paidi the All-Ireland winning manager and footballer for that night over there — we knocked great craic out of him.
“He told us a lot of stories about Kerry in the golden times. I’d say that trip alone nearly knitted us together.
“Mick McCarthy came in and gave us a talk for about 15 minutes one of the mornings,” Mangan adds.
“When we went out there first, we were doing all running. But on the Friday and Saturday, we did a lot of ball work and match-related stuff.
“The Sunderland players would come over watching us after they finished the training and they couldn’t understand the physicality of the whole thing.
“We were tearing into one another, it wasn’t like you were pawing off… you were fighting for a place on the panel at the time, because there were 60 players over there.
“It was shelter skelter, and the Sunderland lads were thinking ‘these lads are mad’.”
As Mangan, who scored 0-4 in the Leinster final replay win over Mick O’Dwyer’s Laois recalls, O Se had a way of getting his men focused.
“He told us it was the fifties since we last beat Offaly in the championship, and that we should nearly be ashamed to not having beaten them up to now,” the Castletown Geoghegan man explains.
“‘It’s all going to change today. I’m not a loser, I come to Croke Park to win.’
“I remember the last thing he said before we left the dressing-room, and knowing the winners played Dublin: ‘If we win today, I have no doubt in my mind that we will beat Dublin, because Dublin are afraid of Paidi O Se.’
“It was a great statement and he didn’t shy away from the statement. It was something we needed to hear for our confidence to grow and he knew how the say the right thing at the right time.”
Mangan talks us through the magical journey in 2004 in the video at the top of this page, including his feelings when the final whistle went on Westmeath’s biggest day.
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