Football takes centre stage this weekend in the GAA Championship as All-Ireland champions Dublin begin their journey towards a never before seen five-in-a-row.
With perennial All-Ireland contenders Mayo and Tyrone also in action it’s an opportunity for football fans to come out of the woodwork and revel in what is hopefully an entertaining weekend of action.
While arguably three of the four legitimate All-Ireland contenders take to the field this weekend, the most intriguing battle is set to go down in Bord Na Mona O’Connor Park on Sunday afternoon when Westmeath and Laois face-off for the third time this season.
While Westmeath have come out on top by three points in both their league meetings this year, there is very little to choose between the two sides. Both teams have been on a steady incline over the past few years, gaining promotion to Division 2 ahead of 2020.
Whoever comes out on top on Sunday will find themselves one game away from a Leinster Final with either Meath or Carlow standing in their way and both teams will believe it is within their capabilities.
There is also plenty of nostalgia surrounding this game as it marks 15-years since the two squared off in the Leinster Final of 2004 when Westmeath finally collected their maiden provincial crown after two pulsating encounters in Croke Park.
The 2004 Leinster Final between Laois and Westmeath is our focus on this week’s ‘Forgotten Friday‘.
It was a game like no other in a period like no other. Laois were looking for back-to-back Leinster titles in 2004 under the tutelage of Mick O’Dwyer.
However, what stood in the O’Moore County’s way was a hungry Westmeath side, led by Páidí Ó Sé, who were competing in just their third Leinster final and first since 1949.
It had the makings of a historic day, two managers with 22 All-Ireland titles between them, leading two sides with zero All-Ireland pedigree (Laois have appeared in two All-Ireland Senior finals). Laois may have been the current Leinster champions at the time but that was just their sixth title ever.
History was to be made on July 18, 2004… or was it?
Westmeath looked to be on their way to ending a century-long famine thanks to teenager Dennis Glennon’s 0-5 from open play. They led by a solitary point as the game entered the last of three additional minutes until Laois captain, Chris Conway, popped up with the all-important equaliser to force a replay.
They would return to HQ six-days later. However, Laois were struck with a hammer-blow just a day prior to the replay as Conway was rushed to the hospital for an appendix operation thus ruling him out of the encounter. In his place, Micko sprung a surprise in introducing minor star, Donal Brennan, from the start.
It was a move that seemed to be a masterstroke early on as Brennan won a couple of early frees that were converted by Ross Munnelly.
Dennis Glennon was well-marshalled at full-forward meaning he didn’t have the same effect as he did in the drawn game but in his stead, corner-forwards, Alan Mangan and star man, Dessie Dolan, stood up to the plate for Westmeath.
Dolan hit 0-3 on the day but it was Mangan who produced the game of his life hitting 0-4 from play and proving a thorn in Laois’ side all day long. Many thought that Mangan would actually lose his starting berth following a disappointing drawn game where he was taken off after 45 minutes.
On the day, Westmeath hit a purple patch between the 34th minute and the 50th minute that saw them go from 0-5 to 0-3 down to 0-12 to 0-6 in front as the game entered the final 20 minutes.
However, they failed to score for the remainder of the game with their backs firmly against the wall as Laois tried gallantly to hold on to their Leinster crown.
Laois hit four unanswered points from the 50th minute onwards to set-up a nail-biting finish in Croke Park and their golden opportunity to win it arrived in the 71st minute when Kevin Fitzgerald was put through by ‘Beano’ McDonald before shotting across Gary Connaughton and wide of the goal.
Westmeath were able to hold on for a famous victory (0-12 to 0-10), the likes of which have not been seen since and with the current stranglehold Dublin have on Leinster at present, it’s difficult to see games of this magnitude coming down the road in the future.
A documentary highlighting Páidí Ó Sé’s exit from Kerry and subsequent impact with Westmeath in 2004 can be viewed here.