Cormac Boyle (left) and Tommy Doyle celebrate Saturday evening's win over Kerry at Croke Park.
Cormac Boyle (left) and Tommy Doyle celebrate Saturday evening's win over Kerry at Croke Park.

Cormac Boyle's journey from childhood supporter to player

By Kevin Egan

Depending on how you measure success, the past decade has either been a golden era for Westmeath hurling, or else it will go down as ten years of missed opportunity. The Lake county have made a home for themselves in hurling’s ‘mezzanine’ tier, enjoying wins over counties like Laois and Offaly that once would have been considered to be out of their reach. They’ve also put in some memorable performances against top class opposition, such as their close run contest with 2020 All-Ireland finalists Waterford in this year's Allianz hurling league.

Yet in terms of silverware, there hasn’t been much to shout about. Since lifting the Christy Ring Cup in 2010, Westmeath’s only senior success has been the 2016 league division two title, and after they put that record to rights on Saturday evening, captain Cormac Boyle gave an insight into how important success can be in terms of bringing on the next generation.

“I was here watching the Christy Ring final in 05, watching John Shaw lift the (Christy Ring) trophy” he recalled.

“I met him when I was going up the steps there. To me at the time, it meant everything as a child, and even just coming off the stand there now, there were two kids calling my name as I was lifting the trophy. I don’t know who they were but please God it inspires them to want to play with Westmeath because you are only as good as the lads coming after you”.

This current Westmeath team continues to be backboned by a number of hurlers who featured on the 2016 U-21 team that famously knocked out Kilkenny in the Leinster championship of that year, with the Doyle twins (Ciarán and Killian), Alan Cox, Darragh Clinton and Niall Mitchell all at the heart of their 2021 senior panel.

The underage scene has been a barren landscape for Kilkenny since then, but this year’s U-20 group lost out in a classic after extra time to a Laois team that went on to lost by just three points in Nowlan Park, so there is hope in the county now that a fresh injection of talent is ready and waiting.

“The U-20 performance against Laois a couple of weeks ago, I know they didn’t get over the line but they showed such spirit. That’s what keeps you going” said Boyle.

“I’m probably in the latter stages of my career but you hope there is lads coming behind you to fill the void. The lads always say we try leave the jersey in a better place than when we found it”.

It’s certainly in a good place now. Liam MacCarthy Cup hurling has been secured for 2022, and even though the significant matter of a league relegation playoff against Laois still looms large, Boyle was quite happy for his players to celebrate this win as a hugely important victory in its own right, and to let next Saturday in Portlaoise take care of itself later in the week.

“We’re over the moon to get that monkey off our back and get over the line. I can’t say enough about the lads and how much they dug in today. I don’t know if ye heard the noise in the dressing room but if ye did ye will know how happy they are. It’s a very happy dressing room in there” he said.

“I was very disappointed in my own performance last week so I knew I had to step it up for the rest of the team. Darragh Egerton, as soon as he started to get to grips with Shane Conway after a couple of minutes, seeing him drive out with ball and seeing Tommy Gallagher drive out with ball, it drove us on”.

The main concern hanging over Westmeath this year was the psychological scars inflicted during a gruelling league campaign in Division 1A, up against five counties that are still in the mix for Liam McCarthy honours as of this morning.

Boyle dismissed that idea, saying that they were realistic about their goals in the league.

“In Division One we were going to be up against it. Lets call a spade a spade. We are not disillusioned, we always focused on the Joe McDonagh. Coming home from Cork on the train, it was tough but we wanted to stay focused on the Joe McDonagh. Every training session, if it was after a tough defeat in the league we would look through what our learnings were and what we could take into the Joe McDonagh. It definitely helped. Ask me again if I would want to change anything, I wouldn’t. I still want to be in Division 1A if we could be again so I wouldn’t change that”.