St Loman's Mullingar team manager Declan Rowley pictured during last Sunday's dramatic Westmeath SFC semi-final against Garrycastle. Photo: John McCauley.

Heslin the man to take over Dessie's mantle - Declan Rowley


By Kieran Galvin

As a former manager of Longford and Leitrim, and with a long association with St Mel’s of Longford, Declan Rowley has seen a lot of football. But the St Loman’s manager admitted that he has never been involved in a game quite as dramatic as last Sunday’s sensational win over Garrycastle.

“It was just unbelievable. The last two minutes were a microcosm of what went on during the whole game,” Rowley told the Westmeath Independent afterwards, as he tried to make sense of it all. 

“It was see-saw the whole time. We started very well, then Garrycastle hit us where they had identified weaknesses from us. We went in at half-time, after playing with the breeze, two points down. I said to them at half-time - 'you’re going to grow up as men in the second half; if you come out of this, you’ll have learnt an awful lot’.

“We re-jigged our full back line and got it reasonably well sorted out for the second half. We looked like we had it. There were two minutes of injury-time called and there were two and a half minutes gone with that last free was given at the dugout. The ball went down (the field) and then a penalty. I was sure it was over then at that stage. But the referee found another minute to give us another chance to play the ball up the pitch, and John Heslin got on the end of a move,” continued the Killoe native.

“The way that our lads kept going to the very end was testament to the work they have done and the belief they have in themselves.

“Garrycastle have been great champions. They hadn’t the legs out there but they had fantastic ability to hold on to possession, pinpoint our weaknesses and exploit those. We were working really hard at trying to exploit them as regards pace. It was a game of two different styles - one with pace; and one with cuteness and long ball.

“It was a fabulous game. For anyone watching without a vested interest, it must have been unbelievable to watch,” Rowley remarked.

Rowley described the majestic performance of John Heslin - who scored an astonishing 2-16 - as “just incredible”.

“I said to John and the team before the game that we, as a group of young fellas, have to try and emulate what Garrycastle have done. Equally so, John is the man to take over the mantle from Dessie Dolan, who has been a brilliant footballer for Garrycastle and for Westmeath over the last 12 or 15 years. John was just magnificent today.”

The amount of injury time played was a massive source of controversy, with Garrycastle players, officials and supporters furious that the final whistle wasn’t blown after Gary Dolan converted a penalty in the dying seconds.

“It (the time issue) is a huge bone of contention,” admitted Rowley. “The kick-out after we got into a one-point lead, it basically looked like had it. It looked like the referee was going to blow it up. There two minutes, 30 seconds gone - I had my own stopwatch on it - when the foul happened at the dugout.

'Then the penalty arrived and, according to the lads, they were told it was to be the last play as well. Gary Dolan stuck it away expertly ... the referee allowed one more play; he probably didn’t expect us to end up in the position we did, but John Heslin got his hand to a ball in the goalmouth.”

“Maybe there was a lot of fate to it all? Maybe there was an inevitability about where it was going to end up. It just looked like that. I’ve never been involved in a semi-final like that, I’ve never seen a semi-final like that; where it was so up and down and where there was so much tension in the last minute,” added the Mullingar side's manager.


 *See this week's Westmeath Independent for report, pictures and more reaction from the dramatic Westmeath SFC semi-final between Garrycastle and St Loman's Mullingar.