Niall Mitchell of The Downs, Westmeath, pictured today ahead of the 2022 AIB Leinster GAA Football Senior Club Championship Final which takes place this Sunday, December 4th at Croke Park. The AIB GAA All-Ireland Club Championships features some of #TheToughest players from communities all across Ireland. It is these very communities that the players represent that make the AIB GAA All-Ireland Club Championships unique. Now in its 32nd year supporting the Club Championships, AIB is extremely proud to once again celebrate the communities that play such a role in sustaining our national games.
Niall Mitchell of The Downs, Westmeath, pictured today ahead of the 2022 AIB Leinster GAA Football Senior Club Championship Final which takes place this Sunday, December 4th at Croke Park. The AIB GAA All-Ireland Club Championships features some of #TheToughest players from communities all across Ireland. It is these very communities that the players represent that make the AIB GAA All-Ireland Club Championships unique. Now in its 32nd year supporting the Club Championships, AIB is extremely proud to once again celebrate the communities that play such a role in sustaining our national games.

Mitchell remaining loyal to Westmeath hurlers despite Dolan invite


By John Harrington

Westmeath hurler Niall Mitchell has no plans just yet to switch codes and declare for the county footballers.

A talented dual player, he has been hugely impressive for The Downs during their run to Sunday’s AIB Leinster Club SHC Final, scoring 3-4 in his last four matches.

But even though he’s playing the best football of his life right now, Mitchell’s first love is still the small ball and he’s excited about what’s to come for the Westmeath hurlers in 2023.

“I sound like Roy Keane the way I go on but loyalty is a big thing for me,” he says.

“The last couple of years we [Westmeath hurlers] have made huge progress. We’re Division 1 of the league, the Leinster championship, we’re playing top teams week-in week-out.

“On a personal level, I’ve been playing to be able to play against those guys. I think now, at 25, to transition over to football and leave the hurling wouldn’t be good for my own career and definitely not good for the team.

“I’d love to play for Westmeath footballers for a year or two down the line, just not at the minute.

“I would have had good enough seasons with The Downs previously, though probably not as good as this year, and had thought of going in there.

“But I don’t think it would be good for me or the team. It wouldn’t be fair on the lads. I like to consider myself a leader on the hurling team.

“Another thing is, there’s no guarantee I would get on the Westmeath football team. But I’m lucky enough at the minute that if I keep playing the way I am, I’m probably good enough to start on the hurling team.

“So to transition to football and not be guaranteed a place…I don’t want to sit on the bench either. I have thought about it briefly but it didn’t take too long to make a decision.”

Johnny Bermingham, 18, Darragh Egerton and Niall Mitchell, right, of Westmeath celebrate after the Allianz Hurling League Division 2A Final match between Down and Westmeath at FBD Semple Stadium in Thurles, Tipperary. 
Johnny Bermingham, 18, Darragh Egerton and Niall Mitchell, right, of Westmeath celebrate after the Allianz Hurling League Division 2A Final match between Down and Westmeath at FBD Semple Stadium in Thurles, Tipperary. 

Westmeath’s newly appointed football manager, Dessie Dolan, clearly thinks that Mitchell is good enough to successfully swap codes at the highest level because he got in touch to explore the possibility.

“He has,” says Mitchell. “We had a chat. But it was brief enough. I had kind of made my decision before he texted me.

“I want to play the best teams in whatever sport it is. If we weren’t in the Leinster championship, Division 1, maybe my decision might change then.

“But it would be silly to leave the hurling at a really important time for them. A time where we can progress.

“I don’t think it would be good for Westmeath GAA also. There are a couple of players on the football team that could play with the hurlers too but I think the best thing is to keep it the way it is.”

Mitchell plays his club hurling with Clonkill and then once the inter-county hurling season is over he tries to divide his time equally between both codes at club level, but admits it can be a challenge to get up to speed with the football.

He believes he’s having his best season yet with The Downs because he’s had more time than usual to brush up on his footballing skills.

"Once the hurling is over, I always try to spit between The Downs and Clonkill 50/50,” he says. “There's great communication between the two clubs, a lot of dual players and has been down through the years.

“The two clubs accommodate each other fairly well but I suppose you don't get that football during the winter that club players are getting, and you're not playing county football either so your skills when you do come back aren't as good.

"It's a different game strength and conditioning-wise as well. We've been lucky this year, I suppose we had a big gap. We were knocked out quite early with the hurling and didn't get out of the Leinster championship.

“So there was a nice gap there, the footballers went relatively far with the Tailteann Cup so there were a good few months there where we were able to go with football and brush up on skills a bit more while previously, it would have been a week or two and you're into championship.

"You'd barely remember the rules of football!"

Niall Mitchell of The Downs in action against goalkeeper Darragh McPartlin and Conor McGill of Ratoath during the AIB Leinster GAA Football Senior Club Championship Semi-Final match between The Downs and Ratoath at Croke Park in Dublin.
Niall Mitchell of The Downs in action against goalkeeper Darragh McPartlin and Conor McGill of Ratoath during the AIB Leinster GAA Football Senior Club Championship Semi-Final match between The Downs and Ratoath at Croke Park in Dublin.

He might regard himself as a hurler first and foremost, but Mitchell enjoys the change-up of playing football for a few months of the year and it shows in the way he plays.

He’s a very positive footballer, someone who tries to make things happen whenever he’s on the ball.

“It's a new sport, it's enjoyable,” he says. “You're playing hurling from October all the way to around May or June and it could go into August. That's nine months of one sport and it's nice to mix it up.

"You go into this new setting and it is quite enjoyable. It's week on, week off. It is good in Westmeath to play your hurling, then switch off and play football. With regards that enjoyment and freshness, it's really good.

"It's a reason why I really enjoy going back to club football because it is something new. Also as well, something has to be said for when you perform well, you're going into this new sport and you want to prove a point but there's also no pressure when you play football.

“You come in enthusiastic while you often see county hurlers going to play with their clubs and might struggle with their clubs because they get targeted or they might be just sick of it.

"The football is something fresh and something to look forward to."

If The Downs are to pull off a shock in Sunday’s Leinster Final against reigning champions Kilmacud Crokes they’ll surely need Mitchell to continue his goal-scoring streak and for his fellow inside forward Luke Loughlin to produce another big performance.

Luke Loughlin has been in red-hot form for The Downs in recent weeks. 
Luke Loughlin has been in red-hot form for The Downs in recent weeks. 

The average age of the Westmeath team is just 23 so they’re not nearly as experienced or proven as their opponents, but they’re playing with a lot of confidence and Mitchell is relishing the challenge.

“The challenge we’re up against Sunday is going to be different to anything we’ve played before,” he says.

“They’re going to be stronger, fitter, definitely cuter than any team we’ve played up to now. They’re probably going to be physically stronger than us.

“They are seasoned footballers, they have played the last couple of Leinster championships and got to the All-Ireland final last year, which is going to stand to them.

“They probably play a similar brand of football to us. They’re quite attacking but conscious of their defence too.

“It is going to be a challenge to get by them, but we have plenty of lads around the field that are well capable of doing it.

“We’re obviously going to look at the opposition, it would be silly not to. But a big reason why we have been so successful this year is that we’re concentrating on ourselves.

“Previously in Westmeath, we would be concentrating so much on other teams and key men for them that we wouldn’t really think about our own game.

“So this year, Lar [Wall] has put hours into designing match-ups but we leave him to do that and then he filters that information down to us.

“So we won’t change a winning formula. Obviously we’ll have some tactics and things to watch out for but we’re going to concentrate on our own strengths.

“It's going to be an incredibly tough game but we're looking forward to the challenge and seeing can we get a win out of it.”