2004 Leinster Football Final

Joy unbridled as Westmeath end the long wait for Leinster glory
 
 
Westmeath 0-12
Laois 0-10

A day of liberation from the chains of history for Westmeath football as a 120-year wait for a Leinster SF title was finally ended at Croke Park last Saturday evening. 
Quite simply, last Saturday, July 24 was the greatest day in the history of Westmeath GAA. Indeed, the county has never experienced a more glorious day since it broke away from the ancient province of Meath in 1542.
The scenes of unbridled joy at the final whistle as thousands of Westmeath fans invaded the pitch were a match for anything ever witnessed in Croke Park. Many counties have won their first All-Irelands in recent years, but here was a county tasting provincial championship glory at senior level for the first time. 
The stigma of having never won a provincial title has been banished forever. Now Fermanagh and Wicklow are the only remaining counties who have never tasted senior provincial success. 
The 38,300 attendance for this replay may have been substantially down on the first match, but it didn’t look that way after the final whistle as a sea of maroon and white enveloped Croke Park. 
This victory saw the Lake County become the inaugural winners of the Delaney Cup - ironically named after a famous Laois football family. 
Westmeath manager Páidí Ó Sé got the better of his old mentor and Laois counterpart, Mick O’Dwyer, on this occasion and the two Kerrymen now have very different assignments ahead. 
While Westmeath prepare for an All-Ireland quarter-final on August 14, Laois have to face All-Ireland champions Tyrone in a daunting qualifier this Sunday.

UNQUENCHABLE HUNGER
It was the savage, unquenchable hunger of the Westmeath players to land that first-ever Leinster senior football title that was the real difference between the teams. It was a hunger that could only be sated by winning.
This ravenous hunger was reflected in Westmeath’s dominance in the breaking ball stakes. All over the pitch, Westmeath players throw their bodies on the line to win the ball with little or no regard for their own personal safety.The physical and mental courage of the players was truly remarkable.
This was a strange game which didn’t match the overall quality of the drawn match. But forget the errors and scrappy exchanges, winning the match was all that mattered for Westmeath. 
Determination and wholehearted effort characterised this Westmeath victory, but the display was also laced with some excellent football. 
Westmeath’s entire tally was scored in a blitzkrieg of wonderful, attacking football either side of half-time in a total period lasting less than 30 minutes. 
Amazingly, Westmeath didn’t register a score for the first 23 minutes and - including the six minutes of injury-time - for the final 26 minutes. If one was to be told such a statistic beforehand, questions about the margin of the defeat would be the natural reaction.
But this Westmeath team has simply refused to accept the prospect of defeat in this championship campaign and, despite that early scoring drought, they never panicked. 
There were heroes everywhere for Westmeath. The victory was primarily based on Westmeath’s defence in which all six players excelled - James Davitt, Damien Healy, Michael Ennis and Derek Heavin, with the imperious John Keane and Donal O’Donoghue particularly outstanding. Behind them goalkeeper Gary Connaughton was as assured as ever. 
As they did in the drawn match, the Westmeath defence totally dominated the Laois attack. That the Laois forwards only managed three points from play in the entire game says it all.
The midfield duo of David O’Shaughnessy and Rory O’Connell, aided by the half-backs and half-forwards, helped Westmeath to dominate the middle third of the field.
Alan Mangan was the star of the show up front but all of the other forwards contributed handsomely - Brian Morley, Paul Conway, Fergal Wilson, Denis Glennon and Des Dolan. 
The defending champions had a number of setbacks to contend with. Laois captain Chris Conway - whose equalising point the previous Sunday set up the replay- was ruled out of the game with appendicitis.
Ross Munnelly and Michael Lawlor carried injuries into the match and Mick O’Dwyer’s options on the bench began to look seriously diminished. Laois had introduced three subs before Westmeath made a change in personnel but the O’Moore County couldn’t turn the game. Joe Fallon was Westmeath’s first sub with Gary Dolan and Shane Colleary entering the fray in the frantic late moments. 
Laois were dealt another blow late on when their excellent full-back Joe Higgins was forced off with what looked like a very serious injury. 
But none of that can take away from Westmeath’s victory. It was a day when you felt no matter what Laois threw at Westmeath it wouldn’t be enough.

GLOOMY START
Conditions were overcast and a little breezy but the rain stayed away and the wind didn’t prove a major factor.
As a result of Chris Conway’s unavailability, Laois minor star Donal Brennan was called up and the reshuffle saw Gary Kavanagh go to left-half forward. 
Laois were 0-3 to 0-0 up inside 21 minutes with points from Tom Kelly, Ross Munnelly (free) and Brennan, who certainly looked the part, showing some classy touches and scoring one exquisite point. But the switching of John Keane onto Brennan soon curtailed his threat
Saturday night fever looked a long way off in the early stages. Westmeath were winning plenty of possession but a combination of poor ball inside and wayward shooting meant they couldn’t score.
The first point was vital in settling the team’s shooting rhythm and significantly it was the outstanding Alan Mangan who supplied it after a Des Dolan pass.
All of a sudden, Westmeath couldn’t miss and after a turbo-charged finish to the first half raced into a 0-7 to 0-5 half-time lead.
To go in at half-time leading after failing to register a score for the first 23 minutes was an enormous psychological boost for Westmeath. For Laois, it had to be seriously deflating.
Wonderful points by Denis Glennon and Mangan had helped Westmeath cut the deficit to the minimum on 29 minutes (0-4 to 0-3), with Padraig Clancy on the mark for Laois. Fitzpatrick added another for Laois but Westmeath scored four points during three minutes of first-half injury-time. 
A lovely pass by David O’Shaughnessy set up Des Dolan for his first, Dolan then hit another following a clever lay-off by Mangan. Glennon then kicked another one of his outrageous points.
Another flowing Westmeath move involving Morley, Dolan and Mangan ended with raiding wing-back Michael Ennis knocking the ball over.
Westmeath didn’t want half-time to arrive but, as it transpired, the break didn’t stall the maroon momentum. Within 10 minutes of the restart, Westmeath were 0-11 to 0-5 in front. 
Fergal Wilson converted a free after Dolan was fouled, then Dessie did likewise after Wilson was fouled. Excellent passes from Mangan and O’Shaughnessy paved the way for a fisted point by Brian Morley. 
Mangan showed his predatory instincts to snatch a loose ball after a Dolan effort came back off the crossbar. Like Morley, Mangan wisely fisted the ball over. 
Laois, boosted by a heroic second-half display by Tom Kelly, were showing signs of defiance, but they could never match the intensity of the Westmeath effort. 
Colm Parkinson scored his first and only point over the two games to give Laois some hope. Then O’Donoghue - who had an absolute stormer in the second half - broke up another Laois attack and spread the ball out to Mangan, who gloriously found the target off his left foot.That was in the 50th minute and it was Westmeath’s last score.
The impressive Fitzpatrick cut through the Westmeath defence to point and then Beano McDonald put Westmeath hearts in mouths, his dinked shot hitting the crossbar before going over.
With ten minutes of normal time left, Laois were within three points (0-12 to 0-9) and the ‘insurance point’ just wouldn’t come for Westmeath.
In the first minute of injury-time came a moment that almost caused general heart failure among Westmeath supporters.
Kevin Fitzpatrick - one of Laois’s best players on the day and scorer of two fine points - had a gilt-edged goal chance to tie the game. A beautiful pass by Beano McDonald left Fitzpatrick with only Gary Connaughton to beat but the wing-back blazed his shot wide of the far post. Cue gasps of relief and a realisation that this had to be Westmeath’s day.
Westmeath’s horde of supporters probably should have been spared that agonising finish, for their side had ample chances to kill the game off. The weight of history weighs heavily on players’ shoulders at these moments and this largely explained some of the shooting (Westmeath finished the game with 11 wides).
In truth, had Fitzpatrick’s goal set Laois on the road to victory, it would have been a gross injustice. Westmeath were by far the better team on the day and, over the two games, there could be do doubting that the victory was totally deserved.
In the fifth minute of injury-time a Ross Munnelly free made it 0-12 to 0-10, but Rory O’Connell majestically won the resulting kick-out and was fouled. Gary Connaughton went upfield to take the long-range free and although it tailed wide crucially he kicked the ball dead. 
And when Aidan Fennelly was harried into kicking the ball over the sideline, the final whistle followed after six minutes of injury-time to spark a pitch invasion filled with joy and relief.

ROUSING SPEECH
Eventually, Westmeath captain David O’Shaughnessy was able to make his way up the Hogan Stand and his marvellous speech captured what this victory meant to Westmeath people at home and abroad. 
“It gives me great pleasure, honour and privilege to stand up here and lift the Delaney Cup for this fantastic group of great players and for Westmeath people all over the world,” declared O’Shaughnessy. 
The captain paid tribute to each of the management team in turn - Paddy Collins who, he said, has given “his life and soul to Westmeath”, the dedicated Jack Cooney who played for Westmeath when it “wasn’t fashionable”, Tomás Ó Flatharta a man “who defines commitment, passion and dedication”, before coming to the “inspiration” of the “great Páidí Ó Sé”.

SCORERS - Westmeath: A Mangan 0-4, D Dolan 0-3 (1f), D Glennon 0-2, M Ennis, F Wilson (f) and B Morley 0-1 each.
Laois: R Munnelly 0-3 (3f), K Fitzpatrick 0-2, T Kelly, P Clancy, D Brennan, C Parkinson and B McDonald 0-1 each. 

WESTMEATH: Gary Connaugh-ton; John Keane, James Davitt, Damien Healy; Derek Heavin, Donal O’Donoghue, Michael Ennis; Rory O’Connell, David O’Shaughnessy (captain); Brian Morley, Paul Conway, Fergal Wilson; Alan Mangan, Denis Glennon, Des Dolan. Subs: Joe Fallon for Wilson (57 mins), Gary Dolan for Conway (74), Shane Colleary for Glennon (76). Wides: 11 (1st half: 7). 

LAOIS: Fergal Byron; Aidan Fennelly, Joe Higgins, Paul McDonald; Darren Rooney, Tom Kelly, Kevin Fitzpatrick; Padraig Clancy, Noel Garvan; Ross Munnelly (captain), Michael Lawlor, Gary Kavanagh; Brian ‘Beano’ McDonald, Donal Brennan, Colm Parkinson. Subs: Ian Fitzgerald for Lawlor (31 mins), Donal Miller for Kavanagh (42), Martin Delaney for Brennan (55), Patrick Conway for Higgins (injured, 64). Wides: 4 (1st half: 2). 
Referee: Mick Monahan (Kildare). 

Attendance: 38,300. 
Extracted from the Westmeath Independent Archives, July 31st, 2004

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