Garrycastle always in control

Story by Tom Kelly

Thursday, 8th October, 2009 10:50am

St. Loman's dreams of a first Westmeath senior football title in 46 years were well and truly shattered in Cusack Park, as a far slicker and more streetwise Garrycastle outfit won the Flanagan Cup for the fourth time, by a comfortable 11-points margin.

The men in green and red are now the undisputed 'football team of the decade' in the Lake County, with all their titles coming in the past nine years. Throw in two losing final appearances (including last year to Castledaly) and Garrycastle have been clearly the top team in the county since the turn of the century.

Indeed, on the evidence of their semi-final demolition of Tyrrellspass and last Sunday's clear-cut win over the youthful Mullingar blues, Anthony Cunningham's charges are entitled to be considered genuine contenders for the Leinster club championship, a trophy that has eluded a succession of Westmeath teams over its 39-year history.

Many shrewd pre-match observers feared that the occasion might get to St. Loman's. And so it proved, as Conor Lynam apart, the losers failed to live up to their undoubted potential. From an early stage of the contest, Des Dolan tormented a number of markers and the winners could easily have been a lot more than four points up at the break. James Dolan's 20th-minute goal always looked on the cards and Shane Mulvihill came very close to adding a second, a few minutes later. When Gary Dolan and substitute Alan Daly (albeit somewhat controversially) raised two further green flags by the ninth minute of the second moiety, the game completely died as a contest.

St. Loman's players, mentors and supporters - the latter forming the vast majority of the 4,200 or so spectators present - greeted Sean Carroll's final whistle with relief, with the Garrycastle players being afforded the luxury of some showboating late in the game. If there is any consolation for Walter Burke's troops, they can reflect on how badly beaten in their first final last year's champions Castledaly were, also by Garrycastle, earlier in the decade and how their persistence eventually paid off. However, that is for another day and the green and reds are entitled to celebrate a fine all-round performance as they await Longford or Wexford opposition next month.

Cusack Park looked resplendent for the pre-match formalities, with the Mullingar Town Band giving their usual colourful display for the parade and the playing of Amhrán na bhFiann, which was sung with great gusto by Scór supremo, Pauric Keena from Ballymore. Prior to this, a minute's silence was observed in memory of the recently-deceased Joe Hatton from Athlone. The conundrum as to who would pick up Des Dolan was solved when Gary Glennon was allocated the thankless job of marking arguably Westmeath's greatest-ever forward. The Moate CS teacher went on to show that, even aged 30, he is still a class apart. Indeed, the former International Rules star was on the scoresheet in the opening minute, kicking a great free from his hands, after his brother Gary (who also had a fine hour as captain) had been fouled.

With Garrycastle having whatever small advantage was accruing from the wind, Stephen Gallagher in the St. Loman's goal was called into action twice but, like so many of his colleagues in the early exchanges, he did not exude his normal confidence. On the other hand, a battle-hardened Garrycastle side looked very focused and it was no surprise when they doubled their advantage, Des Dolan ominously finding himself unmarked in the sixth minute to pick up Shane Mulvihill's pass, before lobbing over a simple score. Within a minute, Des Dolan added another, this time receiving a great pass from the impressive Mark McCallon (a close second in the 'man of the match' voting) and firing over a sublime point.

Just to prove his fallibility, Des Dolan followed up with a bad miss, by his exalted standards. St. Loman's badly needed a score to settle their nerves, but Paul Sharry's attempt was half blocked by Mark McCallon and Cathal Mullin held the ball easily. The winners looked threatening every time they attacked and a three-man move ended with Doran Harte fisting the ball wide from a very good position. Tommy Lambden was wide with an ambitious shot for St. Loman's, but they eventually raised a green flag in the 11th minute, Kieran Lynam tapping over a routine free after Ciaran Kilmurray had been fouled. Directly from the kick-out, a lightning Garrycastle move ended with Des Dolan seemingly getting set to shoot for a goal, but the referee had blown for a free which Paul Dillon converted with his left foot.

St. Loman's missed a couple of opportunities to double their tally but they had yet another narrow escape in the 17th minute. Paul Dillon reacted to Gary Dolan's knock down, but the corner-forward's shot under pressure hit the side netting. Kenny McKinley was now picking up Des Dolan but, in truth, the 1995 All-Ireland winning centre half-back fared no better than Gary Glennon had. A heavy challenge by Seanie O'Donoghue on St. Loman's youthful midfielder John Heslin went unpunished and, seconds later, a quickly-taken free by Gary Dolan freed his cousin James, who duly planted a low shot past Stephen Gallagher for the game's opening goal in the 20th minute.

It could have got much worse for a clearly-rattled St. Loman's side some three minutes later. Des Dolan set up Shane Mulvihill who came face-to-face with Stephen Gallagher and was forced to fist the ball to the net, and the 'goal' was rightly disallowed.

The suspicion remains that had Mulvihill (who was immediately replaced after picking up a knock as he 'scored') not stayed on his feet, he could well have been awarded a penalty. Sandwiched between two poor attempts at scores from Kieran Lynam (the first from a free), Conradh Reilly pointed neatly for the losers' second score. In a generally lifeless end to the first moiety, Conor Lynam gave St. Loman's a little more hope with a fine point, before Sean Carroll blew for the half-time interval. At the break, Garrycastle were not remotely flattered to lead by 1-4 to 0-3.

Des Dolan started the second half with a wonderful point from an acute angle, with a mere 20 seconds elapsed. The same player was in the thick of the action again in the fourth minute, availing of a deflection by Seanie Murphy to set up his younger brother Gary who finished to the net with aplomb. Five minutes later, the destiny of the Flanagan Cup was well and truly decided, and it would not be to the club of the great stalwart after whom it was named. A free from near the stand sideline by Des Dolan was contested by Stephen Gallagher and Gary Dolan. When the ball broke loose, substitute Alan Daly had the simple task of poking it into an unguarded net.

Silence descended on the large blue and white-clad band of supporters and the remainder of the game was merely a damage limitation exercise, with only Conor Lynam (consistently) and the likes of Paddy Dowdall and Jonathan Plunkett (sporadically) displaying the intensity needed for a county final. The younger of the Lynams will have undoubtedly impressed the watching Brendan Hackett and he kicked his second point in the ninth minute of the half, availing of a good pass from Conradh Reilly. However, St. Loman's woes were then illustrated by a wild crossfield pass to nobody in particular from Ciaran Kilmurray.

The virtual one-man salvaging exercise from Conor Lynam continued with two terrific points in the 12th and 16th minutes, sandwiched between which his fellow Westmeath debutant in 2009, Paul Sharry, had no such luck with his shooting.

Both sides spurned chances and it was left to the champions-elect to wrap up the scoring with three unanswered points in a closing 12 minutes (including injury-time) which were utterly devoid of atmosphere. Paul Dillon tapped over a left-footed free and was immediately substituted (much to his disappointment) in the 20th minute.

James Duignan soon converted another free. In the second minute of added-time, Des Dolan fittingly rounded off match scoring with another delightful point, this time with his left foot. Within minutes, his brother Gary was collecting the Flanagan Cup from Westmeath GAA chairman Tom Farrell. Beside him, 'big brother' Des was collecting the 'man of the match' trophy from Andy Murtagh, representing the competition sponsors, Shay Murtagh Ltd.

Des' trophy cabinet must be nearing capacity now, but this marvellous footballer has deserved all his awards. He would be a most deserving winner of a Leinster club medal come December. A lot stranger things have happened.

GARRYCASTLE: Cathal Mullin; Padraig Rattigan, John Gaffey, Enda Mulvihill; Mark McCallon, Karl Henson, Doran Harte; Seanie O'Donoghue, Aidan Browne; James Dolan (1-0), James Duignan (0-1f), Shane Mulvihill; Paul Dillon (0-2, 2f), Gary Dolan (capt., 1-0), Des Dolan (0-5, 1f).

Subs: Alan Daly (1-0) for S. Mulvihill (inj, 24 mins); Stephen O'Reilly for O'Donoghue (inj, 40); Tom McHugh for Rattigan (47); David O'Shaughnessy for Dillon (51), Johnny McGuire for Browne (57).

ST LOMAN'S, MULLINGAR: Stephen Gallagher; Seanie Murphy, James Davitt, Kenny McKinley (capt); Gary Glennon, Paddy Dowdall, Senan Russell; Tommy Lambden, John Heslin; Conradh Reilly (0-1), Jonathan Plunkett, Conor Lynam (0-4); Paul Sharry, Kieran Lynam (0-1f), Ciaran Kilmurray.

Subs: Stephen Gilmore for Russell (34 mins); John Ahearne for Lambden (40); Emmett Cahill for Murphy (49); Willie McGovern for Sharry (52); Conor Cochrane for Reilly (inj, 54).

REFEREE: Sean Carroll (The Downs).

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