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Dublin: 9 °C Tuesday 31 March, 2020

'Two trophies in the one year - I'm 10 years' playing and this is only my third trophy'

Westmeath star Ger Egan is enjoying life under new manager Jack Cooney.

Ger Egan takes on Kieran Lillis.
Ger Egan takes on Kieran Lillis.
Image: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

IN THE DECADE he’s been playing senior football for Westmeath, Ger Egan has won three trophies and two of them have arrived in 2019.

Since Jack Cooney has taken charge of the Lake County – becoming their first native manager in 26 years – they’ve won both competitions they’ve entered.

Of course, things are about to get a lot harder when the Leinster SFC kicks off next month, but it’s a bright start to life for Westmeath under their new manager.

Egan added O’Byrne Cup and Division 3 honours to the Division 4 trophy he lifted in 2017 with Westmeath.

The Tyrrellspass club man played no small part in the victories this year, bagging tallies of 1-5 and 1-7 in the finals against Dublin and Laois respectively.

“It’s nice to finish out the league with a bit of silverware,” he says.

“We’ve come up here a fair few times in finals and came out empty-handed,” he said, referencing their Leinster final defeats to Dublin in 2015 and 2016.

“It’ll mean nothing in the bigger scheme of things but for today it’s nice to get silverware.

“Getting two trophies in the one year isn’t really a thing we’re accustomed to in Westmeath GAA. So delighted to get the win and I think it was deserved.

“We didn’t really target winning the O’Byrne Cup, it’s just the way it panned out. But we did target getting promoted and today was just really about finishing the job out.

“It’ll mean nothing in seven weeks’ time if we don’t do the job there, that’s the main one, but look they all count. Delighted to get the win.”

Jack Cooney celebrates with James Dolan after the game Jack Cooney celebrates with James Dolan after the game. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

Back in January, Westmeath beat an experimental Dublin team to lift the O’Bryne Cup for the first time since 1988.

13 players who featured that night got game-time against Laois on Saturday and Egan admits that victory gave them confidence, even if it wasn’t Dublin’s first-choice outfit.

“Look, it was a final, and there’s been a lot of changes in the team too. Yeah, it instilled a bit of confidence. We genuinely didn’t set out to win the O’Byrne Cup but we went up that night to put a performance in and I thought we played well that night.

It’s kick-started from there. Winning is a habit, if we’d lost that night it could be a different story. As I said, two trophies in the one year – I’m 10 years’ playing and this is only my third trophy. So it’s great.”

Egan grabbed the game’s all-important goal ten minutes from the end after Laois goalkeeper Graham Brody lost possession beyond the 45m line. Westmeath quickly transferred the ball inside and Egan smashed it past Mark Timmons into the net. 

“I think we cut them off a couple of times, I think Lynchie (David Lynch) punched one over the bar, so it was coming. I was just at the end of it luckily enough, it could have been someone else on a different day.

“Look, Brody is an excellent goalie. I didn’t actually know how it got turned over, I just saw the ball (being turned over) and I went. He’s an All-Star nominee, he didn’t get that for nothing. So delighted to get the goal, I think it was coming.”

Westmeath will play Laois for a third time this season when they clash in the Leinster quarter-final on 26 May, having beaten John Sugrue’s side twice already.

They lost to the same opposition by 10 points in the province last summer, prior to Cooney’s arrival as boss.

“I suppose it was just disappointing really (last year), we let ourselves down more than anything,” Egan says.

“Jack came in, he’s a passionate Westmeath man and he doesn’t like standards going too low. Winning is a habit. We just kept winning and we’ll see what the Championship holds.

“We could go and Laois could beat us by the same and it would be like, ‘What’s going on?’ So we can’t take anything for granted. That’s going to be a really tough game and they’re not going to want to lose to us three times in the one year. It’s all on that day.

“He’s got a huge likeability factor,” he said of his manager. “His standards are second to none. And you wouldn’t want to cross him!

“You can see it on the pitch. We mightn’t play top quality stuff all the time but everyone is dying on their feet out there, giving everything they can and giving it to the man in the best position.

“Look, he’s instilling that in us. I think after three games we had only three points, so it shows a lot for the players and the management (that we bounced back). There was a lot of do-or-die games in there.

“We knuckled down and it’s for days like this that we do it, getting a bit silverware at the end of it.”

Westmeath are on the opposite side to Dublin in the provincial draw, meaning another run to the final is a realistic ambition, but Egan isn’t looking beyond the last eight clash. 

“I genuinely don’t think we can look any further than Laois, especially what they did to us last year. I know it’s easy to say that but you just have to go out and try to get a couple of wins under your belt.

“I suppose we’re on the periphery of trying to get into the Super 8s, or something like that. Maybe that’s something to look to. Are we going to beat Dublin? Probably not. You have to be realistic too. But we’ll go at Laois and we’ll see where it goes from there. There’s huge fight in the camp.

“Two lads are after getting cruciate injuries recently so that’s put a dampener on things a bit; Jamie Gonoud and Finbarr Coyne. They’re two big losses.

“Jamie is a seasoned campaigner and Finbarr is a good lad, he’s a good forward so maybe there’ll be a couple of new lads brought on. But the panel has been unbelievable, it genuinely has, lads are putting it in.”

Denis Corroon and Ronan Wallace celebrate after the game Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

He paid tribute to the Laois squad that collected €250 between them and donated to Lee Wallace’s treatment fund. The 26-year-old footballer from the St Mary’s club in Rochfordbridge is battling a rare form of bone cancer and a huge fundraising effort has been made over the past couple of weeks.

“It’s phenomenal, fair play to them,” says Egan.

“I can’t thank them enough. They didn’t have to go and do that. The power of social media in the last week has been unbelievable. People’s generosity, like, you can’t thank them enough.

“It’s going to mean so much to Lee and his family. There are fundraisers happening and if you are writing anything in the papers, just keep spreading the word. If we can save the man’s life, or if we can help him in any way, isn’t it worth it? Hopefully he does find a treatment that will get him better.

“He was diagnosed a while ago but they didn’t really realise how severe it was until recently. His family set up this GoFundMe page and it’s just gone like wildfire, it’s everywhere. 

“I’d know Lee, a lot of friends of mine in the club are very close to him. He’s from Rochfortbridge. Our hurling club is Tyrrellspass-Rochfortbridge-Milltownpass so we’d all play together.

“He’s a great lad, a great character. It’s sad to see what he’s going through but he’s been so strong, so positive throughout the whole thing. I think people are buying into that too. He’s as hopeful as we are. You just have to give the man a chance.

“We do everything we can, it was great to see the t-shirts out there and Kieran mentioning him, on national television. No donation is too small, genuinely.

“A few more fundraisers and a few more donations and if you got to the right person (who made a big donation) you could push it over the line. So yeah, genuinely phenomenal.”

You can donate, find out more and ‘Help Lee Beat Cancer’ here

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Kevin O'Brien

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