We may still have a few weeks to wait before we reach the full height of the festive season but the football community of south Westmeath and indeed beyond will be hoping that both Garrycastle and Tubberclair can deliver an early Christmas present to the county. A Leinster title for either side would be a momentous achievement and, should they complete an unprecedented Leinster senior and intermediate club double, celebrations in south Westmeath would last well into the new year.
With Tubberclair and Garrycastle bordering each other, there are plenty who will want to attend both games. Thankfully the intermediate final has been moved forward to Saturday when Tubberclair will take on Maynooth at 2pm in Newbridge (weather permitting ). All roads will lead to Tullamore on Sunday when Garrycastle take on a highly rated Portlaoise side at 2pm.
History beckons for Garrycastle
Garrycastle will be well aware that they can write their names into the history books this Sunday by becoming the first Westmeath club to win a Leinster senior club title. Athlone and The Downs made it to the final in the early seventies while two years ago Tyrrellspass fell short at the final hurdle. Their opponents on the other hand are bidding for their seventh provincial title, their last coming in 2004.
The tag of favouritism will sit firmly on the shoulders of the men from the O Moore County. Having sailed through their county championship they easily accounted for Mattock Rangers (Louth ), Seneschalstown (Meath ), and Clara (Offaly ). Leaving aside their abandoned game with Clara the Laois representatives have notched up an impressive 6-42 while conceding a mere 1-11 over the course of their last three games. It’s hardly surprising then that they have been tipped by many as serious All-Ireland club contenders.
Regarded as a well-balanced team built on a mean defence, Portlaoise will be looking to the likes of goalkeeper Michael Nolan and his fellow county players Kevin Fitzpatrick and Brian McCormack to provide leadership. Paul Cahillane and Barry Fitzgerald are two others who will take plenty of watching on Sunday. Cahillane has recently returned from a stint with Glasgow Celtic and has hit an impressive 4-8 in their campaign so far while Fitzgerald has weighed in with 1-11.
If the bookies are right the Westmeath champions have little or no chance of creating history on Sunday. Yet I can’t help feeling Anthony Cunningham’s men are on the verge of staging one of the upsets of the year. They will at the very least go close.
Like Portlaoise ‘The Castle’ had little difficulty in collecting their county title. They may not have enjoyed the runaway successes of their opponents in the provincial campaign thus far but showed grit and determination to see off both Clonguish and Ballyboden. Beating the Dublin champions, albeit a slightly weakened outfit, is no mean feat. Their second half performance in particular that day was noteworthy. If they can repeat that effort in Tullamore for the full sixty minutes then they must have a genuine chance of success.
With David O’Shaughnessy and Seanie Donoghoe in fine form recently, the green and reds have a great chance of winning the all-important midfield battle. As always whoever controls that midfield sector has a great chance of success.
Up front Dessie will again pull the strings in a venue he has so often lit up in the past. He will undoubtedly be given special attention by the Portlaoise defence but that’s something he is well used to at this stage. He more than most is a man on a mission and will want to leave his mark on what could be a last Leinster final appearance.
Far from being a one man band up front, Gary and James Dolan, Paul Dillon, Paddy Mulvihill, and James Duignan all know where the goalposts are. Even wingbacks Mark McCallan and Enda Mulvihill have popped up with vital scores in recent games.
It’s probably in defence that Anthony Cunningham has most to worry about. They haven’t met a forward line as potent as that of Portlaoise so far. John Gaffey has been outstanding at full back and further afield in the last few outings. He will be looking for a repeat performance this weekend. Padraig Rattigan looks set to be fit to take his place at corner back having come off injured against Ballyboden. Tom McHugh was a worthy replacement in the semi-final. Karl Henson at centre back has a pivotal role to play and will need to be at his best throughout if the cup is coming back to Shannonside.
Another major plus which Garrycastle have is the strength of their panel. Shane Mulvihill, Aidan Browne, Tom McHugh, Stephen O’Reilly, Alan Daly, Robbie Fox amongst others, can all be called on to do a job. What a pity Justin McAteer and Rory McGowan are not available this year.
Garrycastle were written off by many before they faced Ballyboden. Now with that confidence-boosting win under their belt, you write them off at your peril. A huge performance and a little luck and Dan’s Tavern could be rocking on Sunday night. Carpe Diem lads.
Tubberclair on the road again
2009 has already been a successful year for the men from the Village of the Roses with senior football secured for next year. Yet Saturday’s Leinster final clash with Kildare champions Maynooth in Newbridge is a chance to really put Tubberclair on the map.
While Tom Lennon and his back ground team will not be familiar with the Maynooth team, the fact that they bounced back up to senior having been relegated last year shows they have talent. They only conceded a single point in their last outing against the Louth champions. Karl Ennis is their best-known player and he decided to forego a two week trip to San Francisco and New York with the Kildare panel, in order to take the field on Saturday.
Yet Tubberclair have already claimed the scalps of the Wexford, Dublin and Offaly champions. Surely they have every reason to take to the road with confidence.
Garry Connaughton will again lead from the back and his presence alone should ensure Maynooth will earn any score they get. Rory Walsh, Simon Lawless, Niall Walker and ‘Beano’ Cassells are part of a solid defence.
Mark Fitzgibbon will be sorely missed at midfield having received a straight red card in the semi-final. Thomas Doogan and Jeffrey Farrell are both recovering from knocks but are hoping to be available.
Up front Fergal Wilson will be expected to pull the strings. Francis Spollen and the lively Conor Elliot are well capable of troubling any defence. It looks unlikely that Ian Coffey will be available for selection which is a pity.
Finals are there to be won. Having dug deep in Walsh Island to beat the home side, travelling into the lions’ den shouldn’t be of any concern to the men from Glasson. Sixty minutes of hard work and the bonfires could be burning brightly on Ballykeeran Hill on Saturday evening. It will take a good team to beat them.