herald

Friday 9 December 2016

Westmeath's miracle comeback shows the central importance of provincial structure

THEY say what is rare is wonderful and for most cases that is true.

However, the adage points to having at least experienced some event previously. What must it be like to be part of something historic, something experienced by a county for the first time ever?

We got a glimpse of what is involved last Sunday when Westmeath outfought and ultimately outscored their great neighbours to the east and in beating the Royals by four points recorded a maiden championship victory.

I was there in 2004 when they actually won the Leinster - being co-commentator on a day when history is made is pretty exciting too!

The scenes around Croke Park last Sunday, in the minutes after the final whistle, were simply marvellous to be behold and confirmed for me the absolute importance of the provincial championship.

It underlined, once again, that neighbourly rivalries are the very lifeblood of the summer game.

In beating Meath, the underdogs played some terrific football.

OUTSTANDING

And it must be said that Meath themselves were outstanding in many facets of the game during a blistering opening first half performance from them.

At half-time we retreated to the Press and Media Centre to avail of a cup of tea and sandwich and the truth is we were slow to return to our seats for the restart. Leading by eight points Meath quickly stretched it to ten but stayed steady and faced home, with 20 minutes left on the clock, with a nine-point cushion. The game was over. Surely?

I know all this fine detail because we watched it from the comfort of the Press Centre, with our cup of tea and a large television screen and only ventured back out when the raised noise level of the Westmeath fans signalled their team was beginning to stir.

It was a fantastic finish, plenty of terrific football and in the end you all agree the best team won and the right result was registered. Finally.

On the journey back west, we came off the motorway at Kinnegad to have a bite to eat but in truth, to witness the elation, joy and happiness of a locality that at long last had something to boast about to their neighbours.

Our resting station was Joe Bracken's public bar, a local HQ of GAA affairs and it was jammed with fans heading home from the game with no intention whatsoever, of ever getting to their own home! No, this was a time to be among their own and they were lapping up the win.

We sneaked out around 8pm but it was obvious Joe and his team might have to wait until 8am to call some sort of a halt.

But that too was only going to be a brief timeout, just to avail of a little shuteye, a shower and change of clothes and return to read the newspaper headlines and view the game once more. The joys of the championship.

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