Healy remembers 1949 Leinster Final
March 31, 2005
When Westmeath took the field for last year's Leinster football final, memories of the Lake County's last appearance in a provincial decider in 1949 came flooding back for Rosemount's Johnny Healy, who was right half back on that team.
When David O'Shaughnessy mounted the steps of the Hogan Stand on July 24 last to collect the Delaney Cup, 55 years of frustration and regret finally came to an end for Rosemount's Johnny Healy.
Now in his 79th year, Healy was a member of the last Westmeath team to appear in a Leinster senior football final in 1949. Having come through two semi-final games against Offaly, Westmeath were confident of capturing their first provincial title, but Meath proved stronger than expected and powered to a 4-5 to 0-6 victory at Croke Park.
According to a report in the following week's Midland Herald: "The big occasion seemed to overawe the Westmeath men on Sunday. They lacked the confidence and polish which had characterised their previous displays, and poor fielding, weak shooting and bad passing brought groans from their supporters."
Healy has vivid memories of the game and accepts that Westmeath played poorly.
"We didn't do ourselves justice and it was tough having to wait 55 years to put things right," he says.
"We went into the final with high hopes, but Meath were very strong and I suppose their greater experience was a factor. Whereas the whole occasion was new to us, they had played in a number of Leinster finals before then. They proved what a great side they were by going on to beat Cavan and win their first All-Ireland title."
Johnny lined out at right half back in the 1949 final and was joined on the Westmeath team by four other Rosemount men - goalkeeper Jack Carberry and forwards Johnny Ward, Ned Martin and Sonny Kearney.
Westmeath had eight points to spare over Carlow (3-7 to 1-5) in their championship opener and followed that up with a 2-5 to 0-7 victory over Laois. In the Leinster semi-final at Tullamore, Westmeath received a much tougher test from Offaly and, in fact, it took a great save by veteran goalkeeper Carberry to bring the tie to a replay (2-6 to 1-9 being the final score).
The replay attracted a huge crowd to Cusack Park and seven points from Peter Molloy saw the Lake County prevail on a 0-8 to 1-2 scoreline.
That set the scene for the Leinster final clash with Meath on July 31. Westmeath hopes suffered an early blow when key defenders Johnny Lyng and Dom Scanlon went off injured. Meath quickly gained the upper hand and, thanks to a Peter McDermott goal, they took a 1-4 to 0-2 lead into the break.
On the restart, the Royals took an even firmer grip on proceedings when Paddy Meegan punched in two goals. Westmeath replied with three pointed frees from Peter Molloy before a second McDermott goal put the issue beyond doubt.
Healy recalls how Westmeath's appearance in the final created great interest among the public which, he claims, was on a par with last year.
"The support at that time was every bit as good as it is now. Train loads of supporters travelled up to the game from every part of the county. It would have been great if we had given them something to cheer about but, unfortunately, it wasn't to be."
Westmeath's preparations for the championship in 1949 were a far cry from what they are now. Training didn't begin until just before the first round of the championship and only took place once a week.
"Our trainer Bill Jackson took us off to a training camp in Multyfarnham before the championship started and after that, we trained one night week in the Mental Hospital (now St. Loman's)," Johnny explains.
"That was the way it was with most counties, but some of them were probably doing a bit more training than us and maybe that's why we didn't make the breakthrough back then.
"What was even more disappointing than losing the Leinster final was the fact that we never built on the progress that was made that year. We had some great players like John Joe Flynn, the Dunne brothers, Harry and Maurice, and Peter Woods, but they didn't get the success or recognition they deserved."
Johnny was forced to retire from inter-county football in 1953 with a serious knee injury. However, he has remained a great supporter and was proud to see his son 'Jocky' follow in his footsteps by representing the county side in the 1990s.
Healy was overjoyed when Westmeath finally captured that elusive Leinster title last year and admits that he never thought he'd see the day.
"I had given up on the hope of seeing Westmeath win a Leinster championship. We've had so many disappointments down the years that I didn't think it would ever happen.
"But everything came right last year under Paidi O Se and to play six championship matches in Croke Park in the same year was a huge achievement for Westmeath.
"While Paidi got us there in the end, a lot of the credit must also go to Luke Dempsey for bringing the team to that stage. He had put in the work with the underage teams and it was those lads who delivered the Leinster championship.
"The big difference between last year's team and the teams that went before them is they had massive self-belief. They never looked back after they beat Offaly in the first round."
Healy first wore the maroon jersey as a minor in 1944 when Westmeath's championship interests were ended by Dublin. He enjoyed tremendous success with Rosemount, having played on the great team which achieved a three in-a-row of senior championship successes between 1951 and '53. The black and ambers defeated Kinnegad in the '51 final, and followed this with victories over St. Mary's and Athlone in '52 and '53 respectively.
"The club was founded in 1924 and our winning run began four years later when we won the junior championship. We won eight senior championships between 1932 and '53 and Jack Carberry was on all of those winning teams.
"There was huge disappointment and sadness when we were relegated a few years ago after such a long stay in the senior ranks, but I'm sure Rosemount will rise again. There are some fine young players coming through and I would be hopeful for the future," he concludes.
The Westmeath team which lost to Meath in the 1949 Leinster SFC final was: Jack Carberry; Peter Woods, Maurice Dunne, Johnny Lyng; Johnny Healy, Jimmy Duignan (captain), Dom Scanlon; John Joe Flynn, Jimmy Greally; Johnny Ward, Ned Martin, Billy Fox; Sonny Kearney, Peter Molloy, Mick Fitzsimons. Subs used: Harry Dunne and Larry Maguire.
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