Two Westmeath clubs go in search of a coveted place in a Leinster final this weekend. It has been a long and successful season already for the footballers of Garrycastle and Tubberclair but, without a doubt, all of their achievements up until now will pale into insignificance should either team win this weekend.
Ballyboden St Enda’s stand between Garrycastle and a place in this year’s AIB Leinster senior club final. The Dublin champions will come to Cusack Park this Sunday expecting to progress to a provincial decider against either Portlaoise or Clara. Yet the home representatives have every reason to look forward to this challenge with confidence and it’s well within their capabilities to spring a surprise against their fancied rivals.
Dublin teams have won three of the past four provincial titles and the Metropolitan champions always deserve respect. Respect is one thing and fear is something else. Garrycastle have absolutely nothing to fear when they take to the field on Sunday.
Garrycastle showed great character to snatch a draw in injury time against Longford champions Clonguish in their last outing and were deserving winners in extra time. Twenty players were used in total in the quater-final by the green and reds which shows they have strength in depth. At this time of year especially, it’s vital to have a good bench to be able to call on.
Paul Dillon, Shane Mulvihill, and Aidan Browne are all injury concerns, but it is expected that they will be available for selection come Sunday. All three are well capable of playing an important role in what could be the greatest day thus far in the club’s history.
Add in the presence of David O’Shaughnessy who lasted 80 minutes at midfield two weeks ago and the talented Paddy Mulvihill who marked his return to championship football against Clonguish and it is clear that Garrycastle will be no pushovers, this or indeed any Sunday.
Cathal Mullen is Mr Consistency between the posts. The Garrycastle defence coped admirably with the substantial threat posed by the Barden brothers and Paddy Dowd in their last outing. John Gaffey, Doran Harte, Karl Henson, Mark McCallan, and the rest of the Garrycastle defence will have to be even meaner against Conal Keaney and co. The Dublin dual player kicked 0-5 as his side enjoyed a 1-10 to 1-7 win over Rathnew in their quarter-final.
Midfield is an area where Anthony Cunningham has options. The most likely starting combination is Shocco and Seanie O’Donoghoe, though Aiden Browne and Stephen O’Reilly are likely to be called on at some stage on Sunday to do a job in the engine room.
Up front Dessie has showed in his last two outings just why he is so highly rated. Yet it’s far from a one-man band. Gary and James Dolan, Paddy and Shane Mulvihill, James Duignan, and Paul Dillon not to mention Robbie Fox, Alan‘Dollar’ Daly, and Johnnie McGuire are all potential match-winners and give the ‘Castle plenty of bite up front.
Ballyboden have plenty to chew over ahead of their visit to Mullingar. Influential midfielder Declan O Mahony received a straight red in their last outing so is ruled out for Sunday. Full-forward Kenny Naughton is likely to be ruled out with a shoulder injury while Stephen Hiney is just returning after six weeks on the sidelines. Hardly ideal preparation for a leinster semi-final.
Statistics show that home advantage is especially valuable in this competition. Dublin teams are not renowned for being great travellers.
In some ways this match reminds me of Ireland’s battle with France on Wednesday night. Garrycastle will need to play with the spirit and attitude that Ireland displayed in Paris. The longer they hang in there and keep it tight the better chance they have. If they can weather the Ballyboden purple patch which is likely to come either before the break or early in the second half, then I think the home team are in with a great chance.
As France showed luck can have a big bearing on the outcome of close games and with a little luck Anthony Cunningham and his troops will be celebrating a famous victory come Sunday evening.
Walsh Island (Offaly ) entertain Tubberclair
Fresh from their most recent win over Dublin representatives St Pat’s last week, Tubberclair must travel to Walsh Island in Offaly to contest the Leinster Intermediate Club semi-final on Sunday. Having enjoyed home advantage in their two winning outings so far this will be another huge challenge for Tom Lennon’s men.
A place in a Leinster final is a huge carrot and Tubberclair are sure not to be found wanting. Fergal Wilson has been in a rich vein of form lately and will need to deliver again on Sunday. Jeffrey Farrell, Conor Elliot, and Francis Spollen are others who can provide leadership up front.
The talented Ian Coffey remains on the injury list and is unlikely to feature though should he become available it would be a major boost to the Westmeath men.
Walsh Island are a bit of an unknown quantity but with Connors, Mulhalls, and Commerfords included in their ranks they don’t lack pedigree.
Having accounted for the Dublin champions last weekend, Tubberclair are well capable of taking another scalp this weekend.
Brave Clonkill bow out
Leinster senior club semi-final
Clonkill will rue a number of missed chances as they ultimately came up short against Tullamore in the Leinster club hurling semi-final. Chances of reaching a senior provincial don’t come around too often for Westmeath clubs and with a little luck Clonkill could have created another piece of hurling history.
The Westmeath champions had 12 wides as against four for Tullamore and also saw a goal-bound shot come back off the crossbar. While lady luck deserted them on the day they needed it most, all concerned can hold their heads up high and look back on a successful year.