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Wed 28-Jul-2004 19:25
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Páidí’s Time in the Sky had left Westmeath in Heaven
During his time in Croke Park An Maor has been present for many a memorable day…
Some, like in 1998 when Jimmy Cooney blew an early whistle prompting a pitch invasion and a sit in. The 1994, 1995,1996 and 1997 hurling finals all had great stories attached to them. The Offaly comeback in ‘94, Clare’s historic win in ‘95, Wexford winning in 1996 and Clare beating Tipp in the 1997 final. In Football AM has witnessed Armagh and Tyrone win their first All Irelands, Micko bringing provincial success to Laois and Kildare, Meath walloping Kerry and many many more.
Saturday though, well it can only happen once again, and that’ll be when Wicklow win Leinster. The outpourings at the end of the game were fantastic. All Páidí’s time in the Sky had left Westmeath in Heaven… Of course they hardly believed it until the final whistle went.
The day started for AM at the Funeral of an elderly relative and on then to see her buried in Glasnevin. A nice family get together afterwards, then called into a friend in Fairview, went home, changed out of the suit and into the normal clothes. Onto the bus and into Croke Park. Got inside, headed down got a quick sandwich and cup of tea and off up into the deserted stands. Quietly, Croke Park has taken a backward step in the ban on smoking there. There are now designated smoking areas as you go in to the Hogan and the Cusack. It’s good to see as it was potentially the cause of awful trouble. Its now part of AM’s job to stop people smoking, to tell them to put it out. There are of course a growing number of now liberated Anti Smoking Nazis who will spot a lit smoke from 200 yards, rush up point the person out and expect you to sort it out (which AM does).
AM sat down for a chat and watched the curtain raiser of the All Ireland B Hurling final between Kildare and Mayo. There were a few from both counties pocketed around the ground, a crowd from Mayo in the Canal roaring their hearts out. Kildare ran out worthy winners in an entertaining game. The presentation speech was apt as the Kildare captain spoke of two teams living in the footballer’s shadows, the pleasure of playing in Croke Park for both Mayo and Kildare. It was an enjoyable occasion and a pointer to those who fail to see the value of the Tommy Murphy cup. In a way it can be compared to a Division 2 title, a title won in Croke Park by Westmeath a few years ago.
So on to the main feature. AM expected a bigger crowd but Saturdays are a hard day for some to get to matches, working and the like. Laois came out to the usual hyperbole from the PA, Westmeath “Ladies and gentlemen will you please be upstanding for Westmeath” type thing. The teams paraded. There was a minute’s silence for a number of tragic deaths of GAA folk last weekend. Needless to say AM got the back poked during the silence “Where’s that boss, is it down here?” AM stayed silent and answered afterwards.
For the first 23 minutes Westmeath couldn’t score, silly passes, slow movement of the ball, bunching, lads trying to win the game for themselves. The Westmeath fans were worried, déjà vu. Then - rather than relying on O’Connell and O'Shaughnessy catching clean ball - they went for the breaking ball in midfield and Westmeath gained control in that area for a period. Donal O’Donoghue and co started cleaning up in defence and suddenly Westmeath were hitting them over from every angle.
Gary Connaughton in the Westmeath goal even managed to pluck a Laois shot from a foot over the bar. Half time and having been 0-3 to 0-0 down after 23 minutes, Westmeath were now 0-7 to 0-5 ahead. The Westmeath fans were delirious, The Designated Smoking area was packed with nervous Midlanders, “Just hold on for 35 minutes” their mantra.
The second half began and Westmeath roared out of the traps and in no time at all were six points clear. Laois came back at them. An amount of shots fell into Fergal Byron’s hands. Time ticking away, and a few Westmeath fans making their way towards the edge of the field, others staying put for fear of counting chickens. Injury time began Laois man Kevin Fitzpatrick blazed wide. Time went on and on, 2 points in it, Michael Monaghan blew the final whistle and Westmeath burst onto the field. Tears flowed, hugs, kisses the lot. The Delaney Cup made its way into David O'Shaughnessy’s hands. He raised it in the air and Westmeath were in heaven. The speech rolled on mentioning old players, county boards, football boards and then, to massive cheers, the man himself Páidí!
After the presentation AM got in line and helped clear the pitch… Elsewhere, the car horns blared all the way to Mullingar, with convoys avoiding the traffic and going via the Royal. Flags waved, horns beeped more so then as they passed Sean Boylan’s house. The locals in Dunboyne even came out to cheer as they drove, roared and flag waved by. On then to Mullingar and to the celebrating packed pubs and streets. The team arrived back in Mullingar at 1am. The pubs emptied to greet their heroes, filled up again just as quick.
The players were lauded and into The Greville Arms as the party grew wilder. Filled to the brim, it had long shut its doors when at 3am as Páidí’s army partied. There was the sorry sight of local TDs Donnie Cassidy and Paul McGrath standing outside like lost puppies having been refused admission…
Then came daylight and more celebrations…..celebrations that may continue for a while yet!
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