Displaying dominant playing periods of poise and precision, Westmeath senior football champions, Garrycastle, ensured a place in the semi-final of the Leinster club championship, with a thoroughly merited victory over Meath opponents, Ratoath, in TEG Cusack Park, Mullingar, on Sunday afternoon.
On a calm day conducive to fast and free flowing football, the Athlone based team were in control of the contest from as early as the sixth minute (following a superbly taken Alex Gardiner goal ) and indeed, enjoyed a healthy seven point lead as the shrill of the final whistle appeared imminent, but a late offensive rally from the first time Meath champions ensured a nervous conclusion to the game, with a mere two points between the teams at full time.
Should Ratoath have completed an unexpected result retrieval in those closing minutes of the contest, it would have been an undeserved scenario as Garrycastle held possession and scoreboard sway for long periods and responded positively to any pressure exerted by their opponents.
Since the throw in to start the second half of the county final (in which Garrycastle retrieved an eight point interval deficit ), the Gary Dolan/John Keane managed team have been in inspired form, both defensively and offensively, with substitutes introduced over the duration also providing added impetus to the cause.
County final man of the match, Alex Gardiner, enjoyed a prominent performance once again on Sunday and his early goal, courtesy of a Dessie Dolan pass, set the tone for his team's eventual success.
Withdrawn at half time due to illness, Dolan remains an influential player on this Garrycastle team (kicking three points during the first half ), and when in possession, he is always seeking to create, with the opposition perennially concerned of his impact.
The return of Tom O'Halloran to the playing fray at the interval proved decisive also, as he raised a green flag following a flowing move within six minutes of his introduction, a goal which immediately quelled a strong second resurgence from Ratoath.
When Michael Monaghan goaled as the game reached its final quarter to extend the Garrycastle lead to seven points, victory seemed assured, but an en masse team defensive mindset invited Ratoath pressure which may have proved detrimental to the final scoreboard.
As an injury time Ratoath placed ball sailed wide, Garrycastle were relieved to hear the final whistle with a place in the provincial semi-final secured as Dublin champions, Ballyboden St. Endas, make the visit to TEG Cusack Park, for what promises to be an enticing contest on Sunday week.