Coyne, Denis

On April 1, the Gaels of Kinnegad and Westmeath awoke to the sad news of the sudden death of Denis Coyne, Main Street, Kinnegad. The Coralstown/Kinnegad clubman and popular publican was a hugely respected figure in both local and national GAA circles. He served as county board chairman from 1974 to '80, football board chairman from 1997 to 2006, and was the county board's development officer at the time of his passing.

A statement issued by Westmeath GAA read: "The former county chairman and county football board chairman was involved in GAA administration for over five decades with his club and county and will be sadly missed."

His club described him as "a true gentleman who worked tirelessly not only for his business, but for our own club and also for Westmeath. His presence around the town will be sorely missed. He was a man with an encyclopaedic knowledge of sport in general, but especially his beloved GAA. He was one in a million, and anyone who was ever in his company for any length of time would say the same."

Predeceased by his wife Eithne in April 2013 and survived by his children Denise and Mark, Denis presided over Westmeath's football board during a time of unprecedented success. Having served as minor board chairman in 1972 and '73 and then county board chairman, he saw his beloved Lake County capture Leinster and All-Ireland under 21 titles in 1999, Leinster under 21 and minor titles in 2000, National League Division 2 titles in 2001 and 2003, and best of all, a first Leinster senior title in 2004, during his tenure as football board chairman.

He stepped down from that role in 2006, but continued to serve Westmeath GAA as treasurer before taking on the development officer post a couple of years ago.

Speaking to the 2006 edition of 'Maroon & White' about his time in the football board hot-seat, he proudly stated: "I felt lucky to be involved. After all, it was the most successful decade in the history of Westmeath football.

"It's been a marvellous decade, we've been very successful since winning the All-Ireland minor title in 1995.

"When I succeeded Pat Lynagh as chairman in 1997, I knew that there were exciting times ahead but what we have achieved since then has surpassed all my expectations. I consider myself lucky to have been around and involved in these great successes, but in times like these, I remember the bad days. I remember having to take players literally from their beds to fulfil National League fixtures.

"I also remember dedicated players who have represented Westmeath down the years, too numerous to mention, who never won anything."

Denis recalled how, on assuming the role of county board chairman, interest in the Westmeath footballers had dwindled to such an extent that they often struggled to field a team.

"The contrast between now and then couldn't be much greater. There was hardly any interest in the county team that time. I can remember in my first year as county board chairman travelling to Newcastle for a league match against Down. We had 16 players, one selector and just one supporter, who was Jim Grehan from Ballinagore," he added.

"It's amazing the changes that have taken place since then. We're now bringing 2,000-3,000 supporters to away games and while the team's success has been largely responsible for this, I think the advent of live TV and the more affluent society we live in today has also contributed to the increased interest in the GAA."

While acknowledging that the All-Ireland minor win of 1995 was a major breakthrough for Westmeath, Denis felt the 1999 All-Ireland under 21 triumph was the real springboard to success at senior level.

"I didn't hold much hope for the '95 minors to be honest with you. It is rare that senior success comes from a win like that. Look at Mayo. They have a great tradition at minor level, but have never been able to translate that onto the senior scene.

"People will say that Tyrone and Laois have benefited from winning All-Ireland minor titles, but the difference between them and us is that they won more than one title. They have been consistently producing good minor teams since the late 1990s, whereas our underage success has dried up somewhat.

"Winning the All-Ireland under 21 in '99 was far more beneficial from the senior team's point of view. We got a lot of those lads through to senior and they figured prominently in our Leinster senior success of two years ago.

"To be successful, you need a certain amount of luck and we got that in all the victories we've had. We had it in '95 when Derry had a goal disallowed in the final. We had it again in '99 when Kildare missed an easy free in the last minute to beat us in the under 21 first round replay at Mullingar. And we also had it in 2004 with Brian Morley's 'point that never was' against Offaly in Croke Park."

Denis said that Westmeath GAA will forever be indebted to Luke Dempsey for his achievements with the All-Ireland winning minor and under 21 teams, and for transforming the county's fortunes at senior level. However, he was doubtful if the county would have ended its 120-year wait for a Leinster senior success without Paidi O Se on the sideline.

"Luke was the man who instilled a winning mentality in the players and what he achieved in a county where there was no tradition of success was remarkable. He desperately wanted to replicate the successes he had at minor and under 21 level with the senior team, but Meath proved to be a real thorn in his side. He got no luck whatsoever against them and after we lost in the replay in 2003, I think the time had come for change.

"We managed to secure the services of Paidi O Se and, looking back on it now, most people would agree that this was an inspired appointment. I'm convinced that we wouldn't have made the long-awaited breakthrough at senior level without him. He got that extra bit out of the players that was needed to win Leinster."

When Westmeath finally registered their first senior football championship victory over Meath last summer, it was entirely fitting that the team's first port of call on their return from Croke Park was to Denis Coyne's Pub in Kinnegad. There was no prouder Westmeath man than Denis on that famous day.

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