Today (Thursday, December 15 ), marks the 10th anniversary of the death of Westmeath’s most iconic football manager, Páidi O’Sé.
In his new book, ‘100 Great Controversies’, Curraghboy native pays tribute to a truly unique GAA character. In an excerpt from his book, John Scally recalls the appointment of the Kerry great to the role of Westmeath senior football manager.
After a disappointing campaign in 2003, Westmeath parted company with their manager Luke Dempsey and turned to Páidi O’Sé. The following year the Kerry legend led the county to their first Leinster title, Páidi’s triumph with Westmeath coming as a surprise to Pat Spillane.
‘After an inauspicious League campaign, I was sceptical of Westmeath’s championship chances. On April 18 that year in my column in The Sunday World I divided counties into various categories. One of my five no-hopers was Westmeath.
‘One would not normally expect a team who managed to avoid relegation from Division One to be parked here, but Westmeath’s ‘Houdini-like’ escape from relegation had precious little to do with their own ability and more to do with other counties shooting themselves in the foot, notably Longford, who would have stayed up and put Westmeath down had they managed to beat Fermanagh at home. This is looking like a temporary little management arrangement for Páidí.
‘I had no doubts before the Championship but that Westmeath were going nowhere. I’m always like that. I may often be wrong but I never have any doubts!
‘Getting predictions wrong does not faze me unduly. I always get my predictions wrong and a few times a week I will meet people who will say something like, ‘Spillane you’re only a chancer. You know nothing about football. You were wrong again last Sunday.’
‘On such occasions I always quotes the lines of the Declan Nerney song - ‘If I knew then what I knew now, I’d be a wiser man’.
‘The great thing is that RTE pay me to come and tell the nation what I think will happen. Then when I make a ‘dog’s dinner’ of it and get it badly wrong The Sunday World pay me the following Sunday to explain why I got it so wrong!
‘To add insult to injury Westmeath beat Dublin comfortably in the Leinster quarter-final. I had confidently slotted the Dubs in as number two, behind Laois, on my list of ‘Glory Hunters’.
‘Given the desire for success in Westmeath, I wasn’t surprised when their County Board pulled out all the stops and according to popular belief their cheque book, obviously under GAA rules it can only be for expenses and we all know how strictly they adhere to that rule, to lure Páidí to the county.
‘There were loads of rumours about all the money Páidí was getting from Westmeath for doing the job. I am reminded of the story of the rich GAA manager, the poor GAA manager and the tooth fairy who are in a room with a €100 note on the table when the lights go out. When the light comes back on the money is gone. So who took it? It’s got to be the rich GAA manager because the other two are figments of the imagination.
‘My view is that whatever Páidí was getting he was worth every penny because he raised the profile of the game within the county; really put Westmeath on the football map by taking the to the Leinster final in his first season; created a buzz within the county and a feeling of togetherness and identity and now more and more youngsters are wearing the Westmeath jersey.
‘The other story is that Páidí was supposed to be getting a helicopter to fly him from Kerry to Westmeath for training sessions. During our days on the Kerry team Páidí had an amazing fear of flying. Paudie Lynch shared that fear and when we were travelling on trips abroad the way the two of them coped was to get totally inebriated before the trip.
‘I remember one day when we got to Dublin airport I said, ‘look here Páidí if it’s your day to go, it’s your day to go’.
Páidí turned around to me and said, ‘but if it’s the pilot’s day to go, he’s going to bring me down with him!’
John Scally’s new book 100 Great GAA Controversies is available in all good bookshops now.