Sayeh playing for the love of the game
By John Harrington
Boidu Sayeh doesn’t have much time to put his feet up on an average week.
Between studying a degree in Sport and Recreation in Waterford IT, playing senior inter-county football with Westmeath, and working at the weekends in a gym in Athlone, idle hours are not part of his schedule.
Not that you’ll hear him complain, that’s just not Sayeh’s style.
A smile is rarely far from his face, enthusiasm is his default emotion. Which is probably why the demands of juggling the commitment required to be an inter-county footballer with every-day life don’t weigh heavily on his shoulders.
“It is addictive,” said Sayeh. “Even my sister would be like, 'Why do you even bother playing.'
“But it's addictive, especially if you're doing well. If you're doing well it's even more addictive I think. You're training, trying to get the best out of your lifestyle - you can't go wrong doing that.
“If I wasn't playing Gaelic, I dunno, I'd be stressing out doing something else. It's kind of a stress release, you go down and chill and play ball - you do something you like.
“If I was studying all the time I'd probably be depressed, but it's something to relieve the stress. When you're playing football, everything else is kind of pushed aside.”
Sayeh’s story is a well-known one by now but no less arresting for the retelling.
Born in Liberia in West Africa, he escaped the civil war in his native land when he was brought to Ireland to live with his Uncle Ben and Aunt Therese.
Moving from Monrovia to Westmeath was a serious adjustment, but it was made easier by the welcome given to him by his local GAA club, Rosemount.
Former Westmeath defender, John Keane, made a special effort to mentor Sayeh by taking him for one-on-one Gaelic Football coaching sessions.
Keane was a two-time All-Star winning corner-back, and now Sayeh wears the same jersey for Westmeath, even if the position isn’t exactly the one he’d pick for himself.
“I hate corner back,” laughs Sayeh. “All I'm told is, 'Mark this guy. Forget about everything else. Don't even get on the ball. Mark him!'
“I'm always trying to push myself up there a little bit. It's literally, 'Mark him. Keep him scoreless and you'll be happy out, you'll have a good game.'
“At the moment, my game is changing a little bit, I'm getting used to playing there, marking tougher lads in training. Things are going good for me at moment, I'm happy out.”
It sounds like the Westmeath panel is a happy place to be under new manager Jack Cooney.
He’s the county’s first native manager in 26 years and, according to Sayeh, his enthusiasm has proven infectious for a group of players in need of a boost after a disappointing 2018 season.
“It is - everyone's getting on. Last year was as bit of a shambles - yeah, it was.
“Jack has brought in a good vibe, a good backroom team. Everyone seems to be getting on, competition is tight as well. We're all happy out.
“He’s very passionate about Westmeath. It's about bringing that into the group, everyone should be passionate about playing for Westmeath.
“A lot of people see Jack as a defensive man but, at the moment, he has us playing in different zones and pushing, trying to get that attacking ball. The minute we turn it over, everyone attack and everyone go at pace. He wants us fit at the moment.
“His approach is more attacking than defensive but a lot of people see him as defensive.”
If Westmeath win their remaining two matches in Division Three of the Allianz League against Louth and Longford they’re guaranteed promotion to Division Two.
The panel is a good mix of proven stars who are still in their prime and an emerging generation of young players who are starting to force their way into the reckoning.
Sayeh sees no reason why the Lake County can’t set their sighs high in the coming months and years.
“Yeah, there's huge potential,” he said. “Like, there's a good few U-21 players playing with us at the moment that are trying to break through to the team.
“I'd be considered one of the younger lads on the team as well and we're trying to break through. John Heslin is back, Kevin Maguire is back, Ger Egan, Kieran Martin, all of them boys are the core of the team.
“A lot of the younger lads are trying to push them on as well. Even though they're our core we're still trying to push them on. We're hoping to get back playing in Croke Park here and get back to Leinster Finals.
“I think a lot of lads are trying to forget about that Leinster Final and are trying to push on and make new history for us.”
Sayeh is a live in the moment kind of guy so when you ask him what he hopes to achieve with Westmeath over the course of his career he’s briefly stumped.
“I never really thought about that. At the moment it’s just, see how it goes, play ball, I haven’t really thought about that.
“To play for your county is a big deal. It’s a big deal in Westmeath anyway, to play for your county. I never really thought ‘I want to play Gaelic because I want to get this out of it.’
“I just play Gaelic because I love playing Gaelic and I love the players. I have fun with the lads, a few of my best friends are on the team.
“I play because it’s good fun, it’s good craic.”