Kelvin Reilly (St Loman's, Mullingar) in action against Conor Coughlan (The Downs).

Gerry Buckley: Cup possession is nine-tenths of the law

The Gerry Buckley Column

Athlone (20 titles) and Mullingar Shamrocks (13) comfortably top the Westmeath senior football roll of honour, but one of the four sides which have nine wins will have reached the magical double-figure mark come 5.30pm next Sunday (assuming there is no need for a replay).

The long-defunct Riverstown Emmets will forever be stuck on nine, and this year’s relegated side, Rosemount, will be until at least 2024. But either The Downs or St Loman’s, Mullingar (previously devoid of ‘Mullingar’, and in bygone days known as Mental Hospital) will be celebrating a tenth win in the blue riband of Lake County football when Keith O’Brien calls a halt to the eagerly-awaited proceedings in TEG Cusack Park.

Of course, the Mullingar Blues have won half a dozen of their haul in the past decade, a fabulous achievement by any standards. Ironically, The Downs also accumulated six titles in their glory period from 1968 to 1980.

These stats will have no bearing whatsoever on next Sunday’s proceedings. Likewise, Lar Wall’s charges 12-point win against an understrength St Loman’s in the round robin series, albeit in hindsight a similar surprise win by Fr Dalton’s over Delvin in the senior ‘B’ hurling preliminaries may have helped to fashion the big shock in the Mickey Power Cup decider last Saturday. Winning games never does a team the slightest bit of harm!

Overall, I suspect that many of the clairvoyant Gaels among us would have plumped for next Sunday’s participants as the two likely finalists before a ball was kicked in anger in the race for the Flanagan Cup.

And how sad it is that, regardless of whether his beloved St Loman’s win again on Sunday, the man who donated the cup as Westmeath GAA County Board secretary back in 1963, the late, great Paddy Flanagan will not be with us this year for the first time to oversee the cup presentation.

Paddy was always the essence of fairness and he will have no problem congratulating The Downs from afar if they bridge a 17-year gap on Sunday. Can they do so? Most certainly, but it will take a massive effort to dethrone the Delvin Road outfit, despite Declan Kelly’s charges having never really hit top gear for a full hour to date in the campaign.

As we all know, matches which need to be negotiated en route to reaching a decider are exactly what they say on the tin i.e. get them out of the way and just perform in the white heat of a county final. In this regard, there is no better outfit in the Lake County than St Loman’s, Mullingar, with county titles under the tutelage of Declan Rowley, Luke Dempsey and the aforementioned Kelly coming thick and fast over the last remarkable decade. All are proven managers.

In the opposite corner on Sunday will be a relative unknown in these parts, Lar Wall. Yours truly inadvertently labelled him ‘a Meath man’ in recent weeks, his recent managerial role in Kells steering me in the wrong direction. He is, of course, a proud Laois man and he looks to have made an instant impact at the very progressive club some five miles outside Mullingar on the Dublin Road.

This scribe has often stated in recent years that “if The Downs get to a final, they will win it”, given their plethora of losses at various knockout stages. Wall will be hoping that when he takes training this week that a number of his key players return to the fold mentally and physically unscathed after Clonkill’s loss to Castletown-Geoghegan two days ago. In particular, Luke Loughlin and Niall Mitchell are utterly crucial to the cause of the men in black and amber.

But this is far from a two-man team, and a lot will also be expected from the likes of Westmeath regular Jonathan Lynam in and around midfield. Further forward, Tom Tuite will need to convert a huge percentage of frees, as every dog in the street knows that John Heslin will do so at the other end (even by his exalted standards, the conversion from near the stand sideline against Tyrrellspass was breathtaking).

The majestic Heslin, without whom one suspects fewer Flanagan Cups would have made their way to the champions’ resplendent clubhouse, will take some watching from play also, but there is the small matter of trying to curb Ronan O’Toole, Shane Dempsey, TJ Cox et al in an all-star blue and white-clad attack.

Throw in, this year’s most improved footballer in the county, Sam McCartan, and the enormity of The Downs’ task is self-evident. St Loman’s will surely not start as slowly as they did in their penultimate round win against Killucan. Frankly, if they do, they will be relinquishing their crown.

This often-wrong scribe made a strange prediction to a friend a couple of months ago, opining that it could be a blue double (Raharney and St Loman’s) or a black and amber one. Given that black and amber ribbons will adorn the Westmeath Examiner Cup for the next 12 months, it may well be that the same colours do so for the Flanagan Cup after what we all hope will be a titanic battle.

The two clubs have met just once before in a senior county final, all of 54 years ago. The Downs edged that match by 2-6 to 1-7, thereby bridging a 50-year gap in winning what would prove to be the first of a Flanagan Cup hat-trick.

The teams and scorers from October 20, 1968, were as follows:

The Downs: Olly Colgan; Brian Murtagh, Christy Corroon, Mick Sweeney; Seamus Mulligan, Mick Carley, Jimmy Corroon; Liam Egerton, Dom Murtagh (0-2); Jimmy Henry, Billy Ready, Tosh Cleary; Paddy Nolan (0-1), Sean Griffin (1-2), John Moran (1-0). Subs used: Larry O’Keeffe (0-1) for Nolan, Mick Corcoran for Ready.

St Loman’s, Mullingar: Liam Davitt; Colm Shine, Joe Bardon, John O’Brien; Jimmy Stenson, TJ Finneran, Kevin Craig; Matt Mulligan, Jack Reynolds; Ted Eighan (1-0), Paddy Collins (0-3), Pat Whitney (0-1); Matty Mullen, Mick Conlon (0-1), Matty Lambden (0-2). Subs used: John Kelly for Whitney, Frank McHugh for Finneran.