Boidu Sayeh marking further progress for Westmeath football
‘We had a rocky enough start but we’re going game by game and that’s our focus at the moment’
For a progress report on Westmeath football there are still few more qualified than Boidu Sayeh. Since arriving in Ireland 15 years ago, from war-torn Liberia, Sayeh’s experiences on and off the field remain unique.
Consider firstly how far Sayeh has come: growing up in Liberia, the fourth-poorest country in the world, during a bloody civil war; losing his mother to malaria when he was six; being sent 5,000 miles to Ireland at the age eight for adoption by an uncle he barely knew; getting the news as a 16-year-old that his birth father had died back home in Monrovia.
Now 23, he’s been playing football with Westmeath since 2013, losing the Leinster minor final that year to Kildare (fellow Liberian Israel Ilunga also playing in defence). Being a player of African background has at least lost some uniqueness, and Sayeh is more conscious now of helping Westmeath gain promotion to division two. Saturday’s game against Louth, one point below them, will determine the last push for promotion going into the final round on Sunday week.
If you give everything he’ll give it back, he’s that kind of manager
“That’s the goal, we’re second at the moment behind Down, and are trying to get up to division two,” says Sayeh. “We had a rocky enough start but we’re going game by game and that’s our focus at the moment, nothing else really. At the start of the year that was our goal, to get up and establish ourselves as division two players. That’s what we have been looking for.”
Refocusing the team
Sayeh credits Westmeath manager Jack Cooney for refocusing the team on that task after mixed progress of recent years.
“Yeah, Westmeath were division four, won the division four that year, got back up last year but we didn’t do too well, got middle table. If we stay on track with them [the management] and do what they want, we’ll definitely be able to push on in division two football.
“He [Cooney] is a local man , brought that passion about Westmeath football and he’s more passionate about that than anything else, about the players and the type of players he wants, and if you want to play for Westmeath he’ll keep you on. If you give everything he’ll give it back, he’s that kind of manager. And he’s good with communicating with everyone, he’ll ring you up and have a chat – it wouldn’t even be about football. It’s a different vibe.”
I don’t really take it as personal, I just brush it off. But obviously it’s still there. People would be a little bit racial
Sayeh feels progress is being made in other ways too. He played his first game of Gaelic football at age nine, about a year after coming to Ireland, and credits John Keane, the Westmeath All Star corner back from 2004, as among his early mentors. Now Sayeh is studying Sport and Recreation in Waterford, and there is less attention given to his own background too (there were some reports that Ilunga was racially abused at minor level).
‘Brush it off’
“With me, like, people would obviously say things to you. But I would naturally brush it off. I just see it more as someone is frustrated or whatever and something would come out. It wouldn’t be anything as bad, it wouldn’t be anything major, major. I don’t really take it as personal, I just brush it off. But obviously it’s still there. People would be a little bit racial [sic].
“To be honest with you, I feel like a lot of people would see black lads playing, or Asian lads or Pakistani lads, I think everyone is seeing that the game is developing and things are getting better. I think the situation has calmed down a good bit, well from my part anyway, it feels like it has calmed down a good bit.”