After all the huffing and puffing and belting and skelping 12 teams have finally been whittled down to two to contest the Shay Murtagh Westmeath senior football championship final.
Castledaly the ‘nearly’ team of the last few seasons are pitted against Garrycastle the ‘been there, done that, but want more’ team of recent years.
Castledaly are seeking their first ever senior title while Garrycastle would dearly love to add to the three titles collected already this decade. Ironically Castledaly have lost three finals in the same period, including two to Garrycastle in 2002 and 2004, and to Tyrrellspass after a replay in 2006. Can 2008 have a happier ending for the green and golds?
Both sides, who have already drawn in the group stages, have shown dramatic improvement in recent weeks. After a sluggish group campaign, Garrycastle upped their performance against Athlone in their final group outing to secure a win and have since continued this upward curve. Likewise, Castledaly blew hot and cold in the group stages, beating Tyrrellspass but losing to Athlone. Indeed judging them on the day we played them I never thought they would make it this far. Yet they are only one hour away from what would be a historic achievement.
Both sides are missing key players since they last met in a decider in 2004. Garrycastle will be without the injured David O’Shaughnessy who dominated the county final that year while Castledaly have had to survive without the services of Kenny Larkin and sharp shooter JP Casey. On the plus side both teams boast several young talented players in their ranks to add to the experience of their more senior players. Garrycastle’s James Dolan and Aidan Browne have developed into fine players, not to mention Rory McGowan who has been outstanding so far. Castledaly for their part have the likes of Paul Kelly and Tommy Warburton to add to the experience of Derek Heavin, Niall O’Neill, the Duffys, and team captain James Galvin.
Garrycastle will be most peoples’ favourites but Padraig Farrell’s men won’t be one bit perturbed at having to wear the underdog tag. Any team that can beat Tyrrellspass, and do so the hard way, have to be in with a serious chance of collecting the Flanagan Cup.
One thing is for sure- they are in a much better position to beat Garrycastle in a final this time around than when the sides met in 2002 and 2004. They are more experienced and battle-hardened now than back then and must be brimming with confidence coming off last weekends win. Added to that is a strong midfield pairing of Gordon and Niall Duffy who could shade this vital sector. In the past Castledaly relied far too heavily on JP to do the scoring but now this burden is being shared by Paul and Brendan Kelly and MJ McLoughlin, making them a greater trreat.
Garrycastle don’t lack scoring power either with Paddy Mulvihill back on song. Paul Dillon and Rory McGowan also know where the posts are, not to mention Dessie and Gary Dolan. Gary has been quiet in the championship so far but don’t rule out a big game from him on Sunday. Justin McAteer’s return is another major plus.
There is one thing for certain; this has all the ingredients of a cracking final but who’s going to win I hear you ask? Nostradamus wouldn’t like to predict the outcome of this.
If I had a spare tenner I’d put it on Castledaly for value, but my head tells me that Garrycastle will have too much strength in depth, and I expect them to reign come Sunday evening.
JK heading down under
There was more good news for the Rosemount club this week. Fresh from saving their intermediate status at the expense of Caulry in a relegation clash last weekend, the club received a further boost this week with the news on Tuesday that former all-star John Keane has been selected as part of Sean Boylan’s Irish International Rules team. This is just reward for Keane who along with the rest of the Westmeath defence was outstanding all year. No doubt he’ll do Rosemount, Westmeath, and indeed Ireland proud when he dons the green jersey down under.
Denis Glennon and Michael Ennis were also part of Boylan’s extended panel but failed to make the final cut.
Senior relegation replay
Bunbrosna and Ballinagore (not St Malachys as I mentioned last week ) must meet again tonight (Friday ) at 8pm in St Lomans grounds to see who will maintain their senior status for 2009.
Even extra time could not help to separate these sides last weekend as both desperately fought for survival. In normal time Ballinagore can count themselves lucky to have got a last gasp goal from the boot of James Durkan to bring it to extra time. However in that extra time it was Bunbrosna, thanks mainly to the nerve of Peter Tormey, who came from behind to snatch a draw.
Relegation battles like this are always going to be close but I have a feeling that Bunbrosna are open to more improvement and will have a point or two to spare at the end.
Raharney crowned senior hurling champions.
Despite wearing the underdog tag going into last Sunday’s senior hurling county final, it was Raharney who were celebrating at the final whistle thanks to a well- deserved three point win over near neighbours, and reigning champions, Clonkill. Clonkill looked like a team feeling the effects of a long season and failed to find their rhythm. Raharney on the other hand showed the greater hunger and despite conceding two early goals, fought back to outscore their opposition by 15 to 8, to record a memorable victory.
Roscommon county final
Padraig Pearses go in search of their first ever Roscommon senior title when they take the field against Castlerea in Kiltoom on Sunday at 3.30pm. Eamonn Mahon’s side will be slight underdogs going into the game but that will count for little when the ball is thrown in. Having fallen at the final hurdle against St Brigids in 2005 the Woodmount outfit will do everything in their power not to taste the bitter pill of defeat yet again.
Pearses will be looking to the likes of the White and Kelly brothers to provide leadership at the back. In midfield Pat Connell and Niall Carthy will be expected to get a steady supply of ball to the inside forwards where Paul Duke, Sean Fahy, Niall Finneran, and Mike Duignan will be hoping to capitalise on every opportunity.
St Brigids, warm favourites to retain their crown, exited the championship at the hands of Western Gaels in the quarter-final, and this opened the door of opportunity for the remaining clubs. Castlerea showed their steel by seeing off Western Gaels after a semi-final replay. They can count on the likes of county goalkeeper Geofrey Claffey, Nigel Dinneen, Ger Heneghan, and Enda Kenny to lead their charge. Castlerea have had three competitive outings since Pearses last had championship action, something which might stand them in good stead come Sunday.
A tough competitive game is a cert and while most people around these parts are hoping the Fahey Cup will spend the winter in south Roscommon, on this occasion I’m going to let my head rule my heart and give Castlerea the nod by a narrow margin.