Home-grown hero Cooney off to a flier with Westmeath
By John Harrington
Westmeath GAA’s decision to trust one of their own has paid off handsomely so far.
When they appointed Jack Cooney as county senior football team manager last September it was the first time a native Westmeath man had gotten the job in 26 years.
That break with recent tradition looks like a wise one now in the light of Westmeath’s progress to Saturday’s Allianz Football League Division Three Final against Laois and the promotion to Division Two for 2020 that goes with it.
Former Westmeath star, Dessie Dolan, was part of the committee that appointed him and admits it was high time to appoint someone born and bred in the county.
“The feeling I was getting in the county was that people in the county wanted a local man involved,” said Dolan.
“We had a lot of managers that maybe managed other counties around and seemed to be going around the place looking for jobs and we'd take them on.
“Lots of them did well, but at the same time I think it was around 30 years since there was a Westmeath man in charge.
“I think people are delighted Jack Cooney got the job. The fact that he was with Donegal and got a lot of experience up there in terms of the professionalism that's required nowadays.
“He has a masters as well in Sports Science. People wanted someone who could give the team a bit of local passion and stuff like that and I think that side has really come into it.
“He's very familiar with the club scene. He trained a couple of clubs there and was with Kinnegad the last time.
“People are delighted because there is a decent group of players there. There's massive positivity about Jack since he's come in.”
It seems like a strange anomaly for a county to exclusively appoint outside managers for the best part of 30 years so why was that the policy for so long in Westmeath?
“I don't know, certainly you'd imagine there would be people within the county well capable of taking the job, but for some reason they used to always go outside,” said Dolan.
“I suppose as well when you think of Páidí Ó Sé, he brought us our greatest day in Westmeath football and he was an outside manager.
“They were perfect sound guys and all of that, but I suppose what seems to be happening now is the fact that Jack is in charge he's trying to promote other former players to get involved with coaching and managing the underage teams and development squads.
“So I think now there's a bit of continuity there. When you look at Dublin and compare ourselves to the different models around, I think it's important to get players that played county football involved with the development teams.”
Jack Cooney isn’t just getting a nice tune out of the current senior football team, according to Dolan he’s also helping to lay down foundations that should help guarantee the long-term vitality of Gaelic Football in the County.
“What they're trying to do now is develop data-bases of players and information,” said Dolan. “Before there was absolutely no continuity.
“If someone has the job three years then whenever they leave the job they leave all that good information and it's gone, they bring it with them.
“That doesn't in any way seem to be logical. I suppose what county teams are trying to do now with development teams is to have a system where there's a bit of information on players going forward. A bit of continuity.
"I do think that now that Jack Cooney has the job and a couple of Westmeath selectors in with him and a couple of others involved with the Development Squads that there's a continuity there.
“Jack is paving the way for other people to get involved with Westmeath and I'd imagine he's open to seeing what other Westmeath guys might be able to help him out.
“Certainly there's much more communication. The past players are much more willing to get involved now because there's a Westmeath man in charge.
“In fairness, Jack would be an extremely popular figure. He was the leader as a player and very organised and dedicated guy who was an example to us all when we were going in with the county team.
“So, certainly, everyone will do their best to support him.”