Westmeath GAA chairman Frank Mescall speaking at last Thursday night’s convention.

Tailteann Cup win ‘captured the imagination’, says Mescall

“We will have worse years in the future,” Westmeath GAA chairman Frank Mescall said in the opening lines of his address at this year’s county convention, raising a toast to a year that will be “looked back on as a very good year” on the football and hurling fields.

The senior hurlers are “exactly where they want to be” having retained their Liam MacCarthy Cup status, while the footballers went all the way in a new Tailteann Cup tournament that “captured the imagination” not just in Westmeath, but among all the participating counties.

“Fair credit must go to the GAA in Croke Park for the way they approached it and gave it top billing,” he said at the Mullingar Park Hotel last Thursday night. “Our county embraced it.

“It didn’t come easy. The final was settled in the last few minutes by an amazing, bulldozing run from Kieran Martin, who put an end to Cavan’s fight.”

A “great homecoming” and a holiday in Cancun followed, and the footballers are already back working for 2023, the chairman added.

“Dessie [Dolan] was a huge addition to the backroom team last year.

“Jack [Cooney] has moved on to bigger and better things, and Dessie has stepped up. I’m sure he’ll be very successful, and we all wish him that,” he said, praising also the hard work that went into improving the standard at U20 and minor level in both codes in 2022.

Turning to the question of costs, after some sobering figures were outlined in the report on Westmeath GAA’s audited accounts, Mr Mescall said that he was “relieved” to have seen the outcome of negotiations between the GAA and the Gaelic Players’ Association (GPA). It will result in less expense for county boards than was originally projected, he said.

“We’re dealing with a monster,” he said of rising expenditure on county teams, “and some day some county will eventually say, ‘we cannot pay, we cannot afford this’.

“I’m confident it won’t happen to us, but we’re under pressure. I would love to say the spending will be less next year, but it will be more, I think.”

Reducing expenditure will be difficult, Mr Mescall explained; “certain agreements have been entered into,” he said. Carpooling can be looked at as a way to reduce players’ travel costs, but the chairman stated his belief that mileage costs are “far too high”.

“We’ve got to get our house in order,” he said. “I want us to perform... we have to pay for it if we want success. I think you recognise that. Success doesn’t come cheap, and players deserve a lot. But at this stage I would question if it has gone too far.

“I was a huge advocate for the GPA,” the chairman continued. “But have we gone over the top with it? The GPA will come looking for more. But we have to row back. Enough is enough. I don’t begrudge our players the best, but there has to be a balance.”

Mr Mescall also called for balance off the field where referees are concerned. He said that Westmeath had “a terrible tradition of abusing referees”, and a culture had crept in where it was “deemed acceptable”.

He said that there was an attitude that the right way to approach referees is to “keep them on their toes... from the sideline and the stand”.

“How did we get to that place?” he asked. “Referees will make mistakes, as do teams and mentors. But allow him to make a mistake. He’s not God; even with VAR [soccer] and TMO [rugby], we see how a ref still has to judge it in real time, and by and large they do a fantastic job.

“We’re blessed in this county with a great history of brilliant referees, and they deserve respect.”

On the club championship front, Mr Mescall said that he was “delighted” to see new winners in the county senior football championship, in the form of The Downs, who captured the Flanagan Cup for the first time in 17 years. The same went for senior hurling, with Castletown Geoghegan claiming the Westmeath Examiner Cup after a number of years as the bridesmaids.

“It was great to see new winners in both, and that’s not to disrespect the previous winners,” he added.

Ahead of motions discussed later in the meeting, the chairman said that he would welcome a debate on the county’s football championship structures, and in particular, any moves to reduce the number of “qualifying games”. He questioned if the split season afforded time for all of these games.

On the coaching front, the Ballynacargy clubman heralded the arrival of the Games Promotion Officer (GPO) system in Westmeath. He said that the county didn’t have as many GPOs as it would like, but would have to “make do” while the present embargo is in place.

Referring to the recent Westmeath GAA gala presentation banquet in the Mullingar Park Hotel, Mr Mescall described it as “a night to remember”.

“It was a unique occasion in the history of Westmeath GAA,” he said. “When were so many quality people gathered in the one room? I can’t remember.”

The chairman paid tribute to those stepping down from the county committee, including treasurer James Savage, secretary Pat Reilly, assistant treasurer Dermot Fox, coaching officer Niall O’Brien, Irish language officer Aidan Walsh, Leinster Council delegate Albert Lowry, and others including the long-serving administrator in TEG Cusack Park, Eileen Fallon.

“They deserve their little rest. I hope it’s a short break, and that they will come back again,” he said.