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'He’d a great sense of people, a very passionate man and it was great to be around him'

Páidí Ó Sé was one of those figures that Westmeath boss Jack Cooney learned plenty from.

Westmeath boss Jack Cooney worked with Páidí Ó Sé when they won the Leinster title in 2004.
Westmeath boss Jack Cooney worked with Páidí Ó Sé when they won the Leinster title in 2004.
Image: INPHO

HE’S THE MAIN man on the sideline now but Jack Cooney had stockpiled plenty experience before he was appointed the Westmeath boss last September.

15 years ago he had an eye-witness view as selector when Páidí Ó Sé steered the county to a memorable Leinster senior title win.

The impact of the Kerry great left an indelible impression on Cooney.

“He was a great man, a great motivator,” says Cooney.

“I was definitely listening a lot more than I was talking back then. Just the way he’d work fellas, he’d a great sense of people, a very passionate man and it was great to be around him. A great two years.”

In more recent times Cooney was based in the north-west. Getting to work with a bunch of Donegal All-Ireland winners and operating under the tutelage of Rory Gallagher was an experience of major personal value.

“There’s no doubt spending a couple of years in Donegal was a great experience. I had been out of the inter county scene for a couple of years at that stage, I got good advice from a friend a couple of years ago who said ‘make sure you get all your experience on the way up’ because when you take that job you can’t go back for the experience. 

Rory Gallagher watches on with Gary McDaid and Jack Cooney Jack Cooney (centre) with Rory Gallagher and Gary McDaid during Donegal's 2015 qualifier win over Galway. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“What amazed me up there was the levels of commitment. They were phenomenal. I came in after they got to the All Ireland final in 2014, the hunger and drive and commitment was still there to go on again.

“It became pretty obvious then if you don’t have those levels of commitment you are not going to achieve what you realistically set out to achieve it all comes from that level of drive from the players.

“That group of players they had won it in 2012 and were one of the top teams in the country at the time but there was a real sense of purpose and drive and hunger.

“That became very obvious when I took over Westmeath that these are important ingredients because if you don’t have those everything else can fall down around it.”

Cooney put in plenty years of service as a player for Westmeath.

“I was there from 17-29, finished up in 2000. Mattie Kerrigan came on board then and started to turn things and we won the minor All Ireland in 1995 and there was huge surge of interest in football.

“Then we won the All-Ireland (U21) in 1999 with primarily a different team so there was players coming through and they were the players who came through in 2004 to win a Leinster.

“To be honest I didn’t really mind whether it was a player or a coach or in a management team, I just wanted Westmeath to do well.

“When you are playing you really enjoy playing and make great friendships and all of that. I kind of followed on in then, worked with Luke Dempsey for a few years then I worked with Paidi and Tomas.

“I felt I had enough experience under my belt at that stage and I’m not going to lie I was delighted to get the job.”

He hasn’t had a full complement of players to choose from, Ray Connellan an example of a footballer who Cooney would like to have at his disposal but Aussie Rules commands the interest of the Athlone native. But it’s not something that fills Cooney with too many regrets.

Ray Connellan Westmeath footballer Ray Connellan. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“I was speaking to him just before we started back training towards the end of last year and he had come home, his original contract didn’t work out.

“He was in negotiation with another club. so I wished him the best of luck and said I hope it works out and if it doesn’t work out and you land back give us a shout or we’ll certainly touch base. But I’m glad it has worked out for him. He’s done well over there.

“Westmeath over the times have lost players, Robbie Henshaw represented Westmeath, Conor O’Brien is playing for Leinster and he represented Westmeath at minor level. Westmeath needs all he talent it has and needs to hone it but you can’t blame these guys for going playing professional sport either, it is great for them.”

They have ploughed on undeterred by those perceived obstacles. Promotion from Division 3 was clinched and the spring rounded off by the claiming of silverware in the league final against Laois.

They renew acquaintances tomorrow with John Sugrue’s men in Tullamore in a Leinster quarter-final. After years learning his trade, Cooney is relishing leading Westmeath into championship action.

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About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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