Christine O’Keeffe with Michelle and Assumpta Duffy, at the launch of The Making of Memories on Thursday in the Annebrook House Hotle. Pics: J McCauley.

Writings on 2004 set to generate much discussion

The launch of Mick Duffy’s book, The Making of Memories, on Thursday evening in the Annebrook House Hotel, Mullingar was a memorable occasion and a big crowd turned up in support of the well-known GAA man.

Heroes of the successful 2004 Westmeath senior football side joined Mick Duffy, their former backroom team member, for the occasion, at which Tomás Ó Flatharta officially launched the book. Ó Flatharta was team trainer under the late Páidí Ó Sé, the man who provided much of the inspiration for Westmeath’s historic breakthrough.

Mick Duffy, a native of Ballinafid, Multyfarnham, held the role of communications coordinator during the Ó Sé era and he recalls those heady days in what is a compelling memoir. The book is dominated by well-known tales of the great joy the 2004 success brought to the county, but it also delves into some of the hidden stories which had a negative influence.

The challenge of managing the larger than life character that was Páidí Ó Sé, problems within the squad and differences with the county board are all referenced in Duffy’s writings. The turbulent 2004 league campaign which led to players questioning the Kerry man’s suitability for the manager’s job and how he was close to being fired are also recalled.

Westmeath only just escaped league relegation that year and the book reveals how Ó Sé’s absence from training raised the ire of the Westmeath players, leading to the infamous OBE (Out By Easter) jibe within the county. Ó Sé had questioned his decision to take on the Westmeath job, speaking privately to Mr Duffy before the team’s heavy defeat by Tyrone in the penultimate league game that year.

“How the f**k did I end up in Westmeath?” Ó Sé wondered. Mr Duffy reminded him that he probably took the job “under a mist of fog or Guinness, or both”, which brought laughter from the Kerry legend.

However, the players didn’t see the funny side of it and unhappy with Páidí’s absence from training sessions, team captain David O’Shaughnessy made the dreaded phone call to Mr Duffy. The book reveals that it could all have ended at that point.

“My immediate thought was, ‘that’s not much of a reason for getting rid of a manager at this stage’. That was the week before Easter, so Out Before Easter (OBE) is what the players seemingly required. Not unlike the Premier League across the water, as soon as a couple of bad results appear, the manager must go, something I could never understand,” penned Mr Duffy.

A frank discussion ensued with the then captain and Mr Duffy insisted the same players who failed to achieve success under Luke Dempsey were now blaming Páidí Ó Sé. He suggested they needed to look in the mirror, so to speak. Mr Duffy agreed to talk to Ó Sé about his absence and the Kerry legend subsequently held a clear the air meeting with the players at training in Ballinagore, where any differences were put to bed. Ó Sé famously said he only properly focused on football when the cuckoo appeared and vowed to have the team ready for championship football. He didn’t fail in that regard.

As well, the book is a personal take on Duffy’s life, recalling his playing days with Multyfarnham and his refusal to attend a minor county trial as player welfare was non-existent in those days. It recalls how he led a wonderfully successful Westmeath supporters group in the years prior to 2004, which gave Westmeath players vital support and ensured costs were no barrier to success.

Speakers on the evening included Ó Flatharta and Westmeath’s 2004 winning captain David O’Shaughnessy. Luke Dempsey, who managed the Westmeath senior side for three years up to and including 2003 and was nine years involved, leading the county to minor and U21 glory, recalled some of the great years and acknowledged the work of Mr Duffy and the supporters club during a golden era for the Lake County.

MC on the evening was Westmeath Examiner columnist Bernie Comaskey.

The book also touches on Mr Duffy’s personal journey once his time involved with Westmeath was over and gives a very candid account of the emotional challenges that brought.

While the Leinster success brought unbridled joy, the book is hard-hitting and controversial in places, but nonetheless is a very frank and passionate assessment of Westmeath’s journey under the former Kerry star, a man who had won eight All-Ireland medals as a player. It recalls how some leading players of the time, the likes of Martin Flanagan, Tommy Cleary and Shane Deering were dropped by Ó Sé, and three of the most talented footballers of their generation were not part of that historic Leinster winning side in ‘04.

“That was Páidí; names and reputations meant nothing; no matter how good you were, if you overstepped the mark, you were gone, no questions asked and no second chances either,” the book recalls.

Mr Duffy’s writings don’t always shed Westmeath county board in good light. They are criticised for their failure to accept guidance from Ó Sé, a man who had achieved so much with Kerry and to build on the legacy of 2004.

“While he gave both the players and the county board officers involved during his reign the best of advice and directions, they were either not smart enough to take it on board, or thought they knew it all and didn’t listen,” writes Mr Duffy. “A bad carpenter blames his tools: Westmeath has had their own fair share over the years. Twenty years later we see the results.”

And when Páidí retired after a disastrous second season in charge, following defeat by Clare, Duffy recalled how some players showed a lack of respect towards the Kerry legend as he spoke for the final time in the dressing room in Ennis on that forgettable day in 2005. He is heavily critical of that and of those who he claims didn’t fully commit for the second year of Ó Sé’s reign.

The author claims many players were merely “going through the motions” at the time.

Mr Duffy’s book is not the first one on Westmeath’s glory days, but it is certainly an account that will generate much discussion. Former Westmeath PRO Patrick Doherty produced Westmeath The Road to Glory following the 2004 victory over Laois.