What an intriguing county final pairing this year’s Westmeath senior championship has thrown up. And what a final lies in store. In the green and red corner we have a Garrycastle outfit hungry to make amends for last year’s county final defeat to Castledaly. In the blue corner are the underdogs, St Loman’s, making their first county final appearance in 41 years. Indeed it was 1963 when the Saints won their third and last county senior title. Aside from the medals on offer, neither set of players will be lacking in motivation to play the game of their lives when the ball is throw in at 3.30pm.
Garrycastle were always going to be there or thereabouts this year but few would have given the men from the blue side of Mullingar a chance of making a county final. Taking Shamrocks to a replay in the quarter final raised a few eyebrows and when they put their neighbours to the sword in the replay it was time to sit up and take note.
Corralstown/Kinnegad had been talked up as being possible contenders from the start of the year, and were expected to put a halt to Lomans gallop in the semi-final. But the Saints marched on. Despite the concession of a soft penalty and having rookie of the year John Heslin sent off on a second yellow, they failed to read the script and sealed a historic final spot on a scoreline of 1-13 to 1-09.
Now history beckons for this Loman’s side who have earned the opportunity to turn their dreams into a reality on Sunday. Whether they will be good enough to upset the odds yet again remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure, it won’t be for the lack of effort. They can look at what Castledaly managed to achieve last year for inspiration.
St Loman’s, given the long famine they have endured since their last success at this level, would be popular winners. Yet few could begrudge this Garrycastle side, many of whom have been great servants to their club and indeed county over the past decade, avenging last year’s county final heartbreak. It’s now five years since they last won a county title.
Even though I was highly impressed with St Loman’s when they knocked us out of the championship in the final group game, and no doubt they have improved since then, I expect Anthony Cunningham’s men to spoil their party come Sunday.
Firstly there is a saying that you have to lose one to win one. While many of the Garrycastle players are bidding for their fourth county medal (2001, 2002, 2004 ), last year’s surprise defeat to Castledaly will help to focus their minds. They are less likely to take things for granted. Castledaly were deserving winners last year because they showed the greater hunger on the day that counted. The Garrycastle players will have learnt a valuable lesson from that defeat, a lesson that should stand them in good stead come Sunday.
Secondly even though St Loman’s are a well-balanced side with a strong defensive unit, competitive midfield and forward line who have been hitting impressive tallies, overall I feel that Garrycastle have the better footballers. In particular I expect Garrycastle’s forward division will get more change from the Loman’s defence than the Lomans’ forwards will from the Garrycastle defence.
Dessie Dolan showed that he is bang in form kicking 1-6 in the semi-final while the arrival of the youthful James Dolan and Shane Mulvihill on the scene has been a breath of fresh air to the forward division. Their pace, ability and youthful enthusiasm blends well with the more experienced heads of James Dignan, Dessie, team captain Gary Dolan and Paul Dillon. Jimmy Davitt, Kenny McKinley, Gary Glennon, and co will have their hands full to contain this sextet.
Perhaps Lomans best hope is to win the midfield battle thereby starving the Garrycastle forwards of possession. Tommy Lambden and 17-year-old John Heslin form a strong partnership but I expect Garrycastle to dominate the midfield exchanges. Aidan Browne and Seanie O’Donoghoe have teamed up well in midfield this season for the‘Castle and could again help build a winning platform.
My third and final reason for giving Garrycastle the nod is the strength of their panel. Football is no longer a 15 man game and there is no doubt that Garrycastle possess a stronger bench. Tom McHugh and Donovan Hermbusche provide cover at the back should they be needed. Steven O’Reilly can be called in to do a job at midfield if required and don’t be surprised to see David O’Shaughnessy crossing the white line on Sunday. Up front they can spring Alan ‘Dollar’Daly, Robbie Fox, or Johnny McGuire whenever the need arises. Not bad when you consider that Paddy Mulvihill, Rory McGowan, and Justin McAteer are not available this year for various reasons.
Finals are there to be won - a fact that won’t be lost on either set of players. Garrycastle have the advantage when it comes to county final experience and this is another plus. For me all the signs point to Garrycastle, but then again I said the same thing this time last year.
One thing for sure: we are in for one hell of a battle come 3.30pm on Sunday. May the best team win.
Murtagh leads Clonkill to 11th senior hurling title
Westmeath SHC final
Lough Lene Gaels 2-08
Two late points from Brendan Murtagh sealed an 11th senior county title for Clonkill in Cusack Park on Sunday last. The victors entered the game as warm favourites but were pushed all the way by a determined Lough Lene Gaels side.
A Larry Donoghoe goal for Clonkill after 12 minutes was cancelled out by a Daniel Carty strike in the 20th minute. Clonkill enjoyed a 1-7 to 1-5 lead at the break.
On the resumption Clonkill upped their performance and stretched their lead to five points. Dereck McNicholas bagged a second goal for the Gaels from a free to leave just two points in it.
However it was Clonkill who remained in control and despite some wayward shooting, ran out deserving five point winners.
The 2008 All-Ireland intermediate champions can now look forward to a Leinster club championship meeting against the Laois champions in the first week in November.