Hurling reunion brings back old memories for Cosgrave

February 01, 2006
Twenty years ago, the Westmeath hurlers were riding high in Division 1 of the National League, beating the likes of Galway, Tipperary and Offaly. A key player during that exciting period for Westmeath hurling was Michael Cosgrave, who is still regarded as one of the finest stickmen the county has ever produced. The recent reunion of the Westmeath hurling team of 1985/86 brought back many happy memories for Michael Cosgrave. A star of that groundbreaking team which achieved promotion to Division 1 of the National League and competed with vigour against the top sides in hurling, Cosgrave rates as one of the most stylish hurlers ever to emerge from the Collinstown area. In more recent years, he managed Lough Lene Gaels and Westmeath, and watched his son Killian rise through the ranks to become one of the pivotal figures in last year's historic Christy Ring Cup success. "I'm taking a break from hurling at the moment, it's the first time in over 25 years that I haven't been directly involved," he explains. "It's a nice change to be able to look at a game from a spectator's point of view. It's much different to being down on the sideline in the thick of things. There's a real buzz about Westmeath hurling at the moment, something which was missing for a good few years, and I'm confident that the team can build on what they achieved last year." Son of Andrew Cosgrave - a former Collinstown and Rickardstown player - Mick played his underage hurling with St. Mary's (an amalgamation of Collinstown, Rickardstown and Glenidan). He first came to prominence in 1973 when he was a member of the Lough Lene Gaels team that won the junior championship, the club's first championship success in any grade. Two years later, he was centre back and captain of the Lough Lene Gaels team which won their first senior championship at the expense of Raharney. The Gaels retained the championship in 1976 with Raharney being their victims once again in the decider. A classic example of Michael's penchant for notching vital scores was provided in the semi-final victory over Clonkill. Although only introduced as a second half substitute (he was unable to start due to illness), he finished the game with three goals to his credit. Mick made his senior debut for Westmeath in 1974 and won an All-Ireland 'B' championship medal the following year. He was appointed captain for the 1976 Leinster championship campaign. Westmeath defeated Offaly by 1-16 to 1-10 in the first round at Croke Park but lost to Kilkenny in the provincial semi-final at Cusack Park. Michael's versatility enabled him to line out in a variety of positions for Westmeath, but it is as a lethal corner forward that he is best remembered. He was an integral member of the Lake County side which made so much progress in the first half of the 1980s, and played in some of their most noteworthy victories. The National League defeats of Tipperary in seasons 1983/84 (5-12 to 3-11) and 1985/86 (1-18 to 1-11) are among his memorable games. One game which perhaps he would rather forget, however, is Westmeath's unlucky National League quarter-final defeat to Kilkenny in 1986. Michael had what seemed a perfectly legitimate goal disallowed in the dying stages and Westmeath subsequently lost by 3-8 to 0-15. "That proved to be a very costly decision for Westmeath," he regrets. "We had been building a team over a five to six-year period prior to then and everything appeared to be going to plan. But when that goal was disallowed, it marked a turning point for us. We began to lose our way after that and the team started to break up. "We had suffered a couple of heavy defeats to Kilkenny over the previous few years and it was the closest we came to beating them. You could say that we got a bit disheartened." Michael was among a number of high-profile Westmeath hurlers who emigrated to the US in 1987. There, he won three New York senior championship medals with the Westmeath club, the final one being garnered in 1996. Cosgrave returned home to Ireland on a number of occasions between 1987 and '96. On one such occasion, in 1993, he made a sensational return to the county colours in the All-Ireland 'B' final against Meath at Tullamore. Aged 39 at the time, he took his place on the team at corner forward, but couldn't prevent the maroons from succumbing to defeat. It was to be his final game for Westmeath. One of the highlights of Michael's career came in 1984 when he was selected to play for Leinster. He was introduced as a substitute for Kilkenny's Billy Fitzpatrick in the Railway Cup final against Munster. The game, which was played at Ennis, ended in a 2-9 to 1-18 defeat for the Leinster men. Later that same year, Michael won a second All-Ireland 'B' championship medal when Westmeath defeated London. The midlanders were subsequently beaten by Galway in the All-Ireland quarter-final at Birr. On his return from the US, Mick was invited to join Lough Lene Gaels as a physical trainer. Working alongside team manager Chris Corrigan, he helped guide the Gaels to their first senior championship success in 20 years, with victory being secured over Castletown-Geoghegan in the final. Michael was appointed manager in 1997 and led the Gaels to further Examiner Cup victories in '98, '99, 2000 and 2002. He handed the managerial reins over to Offaly legend Joachim Kelly last year, who steered the purple and golds to another county final which they lost to old rivals Castlepollard after a replay. Cosgrave succeeded another Offaly great, Pat Delaney, as Westmeath senior hurling manager in early 1999 and was responsible for developing the skills of many of the players who featured in last season's Christy Ring Cup triumph. Indeed, he had been involved as a selector with Tom Ryan and Pat O'Toole before they resigned in frustration a few weeks prior to the commencement of the new second tier championship. "The reason why we resigned was because a lot of the physically strong hurlers in the county wouldn't commit to the Westmeath team. I was delighted to see Westmeath go on to win the Christy Ring Cup, but they won it on one wing as far as I'm concerned. There were at least five or six players missing who were good enough to be on that team," he says. Mick fears that Westmeath will struggle to beat Dublin in this year's Leinster championship if the physically strong hurlers he is referring to remain out of the equation. "Playing in the Leinster championship will be a big step-up for Westmeath and it's vital that the big men make themselves available. Westmeath hurling supporters know the players I am talking about. Dublin will have up to a dozen players over six foot tall and we've got to match them on that front to have any chance. "Seamus Qualter has done a great job as manager and it's a huge boost for Westmeath to have someone of Ollie Baker's calibre involved as a selector. They're good enough to win Division 2 and hopefully we'll have everybody on board when the Dublin game comes around." Mick's son Killian has been tipped for hurling stardom ever since he played for Lough Lene Gaels in an under 16 'A' championship final against Castletown-Geoghegan at the age of 11. He made his senior inter-county debut before his 17th birthday in the National League rout of Kerry in Tralee two years ago and was full forward on the Christy Ring Cup winning team. "Killian is still only 18, and my biggest concern for him is that he might get too much hurling. I would like to see him take a break from the game for a couple of months in the year, but that's not happening at the moment. He has to be careful that he doesn't suffer from burn-out." The well-known builder was delighted to meet his former team-mates at the January reunion in the Greville Arms Hotel which recognised the achievements of the 1985/86 Westmeath team. "It was great to see so many of the old faces again. I can still remember the day we beat Antrim in Cusack Park to secure promotion as if it was only last week. It was a good team, but it never fulfilled its potential at championship level. We have a decent team at the moment too, and let's hope they won't have the same regrets 10 years from now," he concludes.

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