Westmeath manager Jack Cooney at a GAA media event ahead of this Sunday’s Tailteann Cup semi-finals double header at Croke Park in Dublin.
Westmeath manager Jack Cooney at a GAA media event ahead of this Sunday’s Tailteann Cup semi-finals double header at Croke Park in Dublin.

Jack Cooney predicts Tailteann Cup will get bigger and bigger


By John Harrington

Westmeath manager, Jack Cooney, believes the Tailteann Cup will go from strength to strength in the coming years.

His own team have embraced the competition in its maiden year, and after victories over Laois and Carlow will now go head to head with another Leinster rival, Offaly, in Sunday’s semi-final in Croke Park.

Cooney has already seen the benefit of the competition in terms of how the younger players especially in his panel have developed from playing regular championship football at the height of the summer.

And he believes that such has been the buy-in from both players and supporters that the competition has a very bright future.

“I actually think the Tailteann Cup can be quite big in years to come,” said Cooney.

“It is going to evolve. It is a great opportunity for Div 3 and Div 4 teams to put a process in place to grow and develop and strategise things. To win it would be fantastic, it would create real good memories for Westmeath supporters, young and old, and we don’t have an abundance of them.

“So, the opportunity for that is exciting, so that is why we are really, really committed to it. We have played two games now, against Laois and Carlow and we got real good momentum from it, like the other three teams in the semi-finals, and there is nothing like that momentum.,

“And, for us, it doesn’t matter if it is the Sam Maguire championship or Tailteann Cup, winning a championship game brings positivity and brings a really enjoyable environment, that is what the lads are experiencing at the moment.

“It is a huge opportunity for us to develop players, we have a mixture of young and old in the squad, and I think what this has done has given us a real good opportunity to spend more time with each other.

“The best way to develop players is on the training pitch. And we have an extension of three to four weeks at the moment, something that we didn’t have for the last two years. And I see that as a huge benefit.”

Westmeath manager Jack Cooney before the Leinster GAA Football Senior Championship Semi-Final match between Kildare and Westmeath at Croke Park in Dublin.
Westmeath manager Jack Cooney before the Leinster GAA Football Senior Championship Semi-Final match between Kildare and Westmeath at Croke Park in Dublin.

The opportunity to play meaningful championship matches and hopefully lift some silverware in Croke Park at the end of the journey isn’t the only draw for players competing in the Tailteann Cup.

A ‘Champions 15’ will be selected to honour the best 15 players from the competition and financial assistance will also be made available to the winning county towards a team holiday.

“I certainly wouldn’t undervalue a Tailteann All-Star and I can tell you that Westmeath lads would love to get one,” says Cooney.

“It would be fantastic for them. To get another day out in Croke Park is a great experience for players.

“We had a number of players against Kildare who had never togged out in Croke Park and if they win this weekend, they will have another opportunity to get back there again.

“There is a lot of things going for it. A Tailteann All-Star in years to come could be very, very valuable. I think this in a position where it will evolve. There might be a big sponsor coming in behind it, the talk around the team holiday. There is a lot for players to really go after.

"And from my perspective, it is a huge opportunity to develop and progress, realistic progression.”

Cooney didn’t experience too many big days in Croke Park during his own 12-year playing career with Westmeath, but he still looks back on it all with hugely fond memories.

There might have been more bad defeats than great victories, but there was glory in the struggle.

“I think that’s a testament to the GAA and sport in general,” said Cooney.

“Through all of that I didn’t think of them as tough days because I was stuck in the middle of them but I made great friends, great laughs and experiences and that’s what’s stands out to me. All the training and slagging was worth it with the players even though we weren’t winning anything.

“And they guys started winning and it started to turn but the important thing is not to lose the craic and the enjoyment factor. Ask any player and its very high on their priority list and if its not there I’d have to question are we doing the right thing?”

Westmeath manager Paidi O'Se talks with Westmeath selectors, from left, Tomas O'Flatharta, Jack Cooney and Paddy Collins, during an O'Byrne Cup match against Louth in 2004.
Westmeath manager Paidi O'Se talks with Westmeath selectors, from left, Tomas O'Flatharta, Jack Cooney and Paddy Collins, during an O'Byrne Cup match against Louth in 2004.

Cooney has given some serious service to Westmeath football.

After his own 12-year career ended he was involved as a selector for six years under three different managers – Luke Dempsey, Páidí Ó Sé, and Tomás Ó Flatharta – and is now in his fourth year as manager himself.

He was there for some great days in the noughties, most obviously the county’s first and so far only Leinster SFC title in 2004, and has a store of golden memories from the many years he has committed to the cause.

“When I was playing as a young fella and then to see Garda escorts bringing a team up the motorway to Croke Park in the early noughties playing Meath and cars literally bumper to bumper the whole way up. Like, I never thought I’d see the day.

“I was blessed to be in with Páidí and Tomás and Paddy Collins and that team of 2004 that was magical so I have kind of seen both sides of it.

“At the moment Westmeath is very important to me I’m very passionate about Westmeath that’s the grip it has on me and I’m privileged to be in a position to do something about it for the future.

“I have been involved with great players manager and characters and have built up a really good stockpile of stories and craic and situations that I’d love to share with you some time.”

He hopes that this Westmeath team can now add some more chapters to that stockpile of stories, and doesn’t mind dreaming about how it would feel to stand on the Croke Park pitch and watch his team captain Kevin Maguire go up the steps of the Hogan Stand to lift the Tailteann Cup.

“It would mean the world to me but it would also mean the world to young Westmeath supporters,” said Cooney.

“Because for them to drive back down from Croke Park with a positive experience whether it’s a Sam Maguire, a Tailteann cup, a Liam MacCarthy or a Tommy Murphy, it’s a great experience for them and one they will hopefully remember when they come and hopefully remember as they invest all their years and hopefully become an intercounty player.

“So there are huge positives and a huge spin off, that’s what I focus on.”

If their manager’s enthusiasm is infectious, then this Westmeath team has a great chance of achieving that sort of glory.