Ronan O’Toole of Loman’s Mullingar gets brought down by Ciaran Farrelly, Emmet Óg Killoe, during the Leinster club quarter-final clash.

Big step-up for St Loman’s when they face Naas

By Gerry Buckley

“Have St Loman’s been very good, or have Killoe just been awful?”

The above text arrived on this scribe’s mobile phone in the press box in Glennon Bros Pearse Park moments after Anthony Nolan blew the half-time whistle around 2.35pm last Sunday week, and it came from the deputy editor of this newspaper (also a St Loman’s underage coach).

The Westmeath champions led by 1-11 to 0-3 at that juncture, and despite having horrible memories of a late collapse in Portlaoise by a Luke Dempsey-managed side in the 2017 Leinster final (much worse, no doubt, for the players on duty then and now – including current manager Paddy Dowdall), it was surely safe to think: “Game, set and match St Loman’s.”

At the time, I felt that my standard, “a bit of both”, reply was accurate. However, reflecting on the game since it was probably a case of the Mullingar blues having played absolutely superbly in the first moiety. They had looked a supremely fit, focused and skilful outfit in the opening half-hour.

Indeed, at that juncture it was hard not to be one of those nauseating ‘I told you so’ people to the local media present, having opined to them en masse before the game that both Coralstown/Kinnegad and Shelmaliers had come very close to defeating St Loman’s with a cagey/negative game plan, and that if Killoe were to go and go and give the visitors’ marquee players time and space, they would be well and truly beaten by a side laden with inter-county standard attackers.

Remarkably, given the in-depth knowledge of his opponents accumulated by the aforementioned Dempsey (a phenomenally successful bainisteoir in the colleges, club and inter-county scene for close on three decades, including never-to-be-forgotten and never-to-be-undervalued underage All-Irelands with Westmeath in 1995 and 1999), all the big names in blue were given the freedom of the Longford county grounds. The inevitable hammering duly ensued.

One thing is for sure – John Heslin and his merry men will not hammer Naas next Sunday in TEG Cusack Park (throw-in 1.30 pm)! In fact, they will do extremely well to eke out a win by any margin against a club – indeed, a town – very much on the rise in both codes, helped immeasurably by the ongoing successes of the local CBS secondary school, whose hold on the prestigious Bro Bosco Cup has been rock solid since 2018, interrupted only by a great win in a Covid-delayed final in 2020 by St Joseph’s, Rochfortbridge – managed by a certain Luke Dempsey!

After a long period in the wilderness (just one county senior football success in 89 years since 1932), Naas have become the flagship team in the Lilywhite county, with this year’s three in-a-row bringing them to joint-third on 11 titles in the Dermot Bourke Cup roll of honour.

All reports suggest that Joe Murphy's charges were put to the pin of their collars by a solid Summerhill outfit for three quarters of their quarter-final in Hawkfield before eventually pulling clear to win by a slightly flattering ten points. In truth, a similar winning margin by St Loman’s on the same afternoon was anything but flattering.

Eoghan Prizeman’s 51st minute goal broke the Meath champions’ challenge and Naas went on to hit 1-5 without response in the closing ten minutes or so. Former Kildare star Eamonn Callaghan came on and scored two points during the late blitz, while highly-vaunted county attacker Darragh Kirwan notched his third point of the game.

A mixture of youth (including recent Bro Bosco Cup and Hogan Cup winners) and experience (Callaghan is almost 41!) make up this Naas team, who were losing provincial finalists to Kilmacud Crokes in 2021. They are certain to want revenge this year (assuming the Dublin giants – with a little help from Galway! – get through their semi-final away to Louth kingpins St Mary’s, Ardee in next Sunday’s other penultimate round clash).

Their team (with scorers) in their 2-12 to 0-8 quarter-final win against Summerhill was as follows: Luke Mullins (0-1, f); Cathal Daly, Conor McCarthy, Mark Maguire; Brian Byrne; Eoghan Prizeman (1-0), Eoin Doyle, Paddy McDermott; Paul McDermott, James Burke (0-1); Alex Beirne (0-3), Darragh Kirwan (0-3, 1f), Jack McKevitt (0-1); Dermot Hanafin, Sean Hanafin (1-0). Subs: Eamonn Callaghan (0-2, 2f) for D Hanafin (42), Tom Browne for McKevitt (42), Neil Aherne for Paul McDermott (55), Kevin Cummins (0-1, f) for Kirwan (59).

Westmeath and Kildare representatives have met on ten previous occasions in the Leinster Club SFC, with the Lake County standard-bearers only successful three times. Of course, it should have been four, and many feel – even allowing for Kilmacud’s current strength – that this might well be St Loman’s best chance to make up for that thrown-away title six years ago.

A victory on Sunday at Westmeath GAA headquarters, a pitch very familiar to all in the Delvin Road camp, would guarantee a provincial showdown in Croke Park on December 2. Dowdall’s troops are undoubtedly good enough to win if they hit top form.

Westmeath v Kildare - Leinster club previous games:

18/3/1973, Tullamore, The Downs 2-8 Carbury 2-7

3/11/1985, Athlone, Carbury 2-2 Tubberclair 0-4

14/10/1989, Newbridge, Johnstownbridge 2-13 Rosemount 0-8

9/11/1997, Athlone, Clane 2-13 Moate All Whites 3-1

10/11/2002, Cusack Park, Moorefield 0-13 Garrycastle 1-4

26/11/2006, Cusack Park, Moorefield 0-8 Tyrrellspass 0-7

9/12/2007, Cusack Park, Tyrrellspass 1-7 Moorefield 0-7

4/12/2011, Newbridge, Garrycastle 1-10 Athy 1-6

17/12/2017, Portlaoise, Moorefield 1-14 St Loman’s, Mullingar 2-10

28/10/2018, TEG Cusack Park, Moorefield 2-9 Mullingar Shamrocks 1-6