‘Is maith an t-anlann an t-ocras.’ If ever this seanfhocal rang true it was in Cusack Park last Sunday as the men from Castledaly matched an enormous hunger for victory to their fine array of skill and got their just desserts by running out deserving winners of this year’s Shay Murtagh senior football championship.
Having lost three deciders already this decade their appetite for success was understandable. It was also something which Garrycastle failed to match over the hour. The men in green and yellow already had rightful claims to being the most consistent team around over the past five or six years but in the absence of a county title such claims counted for little. It was little wonder then that the sound of Barry Kelly’s final whistle was greeted with an outpouring of emotion not seen too often in Westmeath GAA headquarters. Grown men and women were seen with tears in their eyes in the stand and on the terrace and the pitch invasion which followed set the tone for the celebrations that have lasted for much of the past week.
From a neutral point of view it was the right result too. Not just because the underdog won, but, because on the day they deserved to. When the game was up for grabs in the second half they out-fought, out-tackled, and ultimately out-scored the town side. Nobody could begrudge the likes of Ciaran Henson, Russell Casey, Niall O’Neill, Derek Heavin, the Duffys, Alan Fitz, MJ McLoughlin, the Kellys, and team captain James Galvin their day in the sun. All have been great servants to their club and the club scene in Westmeath for the past number of years.
What a pity that injury intervened to deny JP Casey, their scorer-in-chief over the past ten years, a well deserved medal. The talented Kenny Larkin was another man to lose out.
The people of Castledaly love their football, as their large attendance at the final, and indeed throughout the championship, showed. Every supporter deserves a day like this at least once in their lives. Anne Connell, perhaps their best known and least vocal supporter, a woman who rarely misses a club or county fixture deserves it more than most.
There are many people who did a lot to promote the game of football in the parish of Castledaly who have since gone on to claim their eternal reward and I’m sure they were smiling down from the stand in the sky on Cusack Park as James Galvin became the first Castledaly man to hold the Flanagan Cup aloft. Amongst them the legendary Ollie McLoughlin who passed away just two short months ago. His passing played no small part in gelling this team together, and no doubt he’d be proud of the performance of MJ and his colleagues.
Garrycastle too deserve credit for the part they played in this entertaining final. It’s not often in any game, let alone a county final, that all but two points scored came from play. It tells a lot about the sporting manner in which the game was played. Martin McCabe’s men will rue the eight wides kicked in the opening half and indeed a number of near misses in the second period, including a goal chance from Paddy Mulvihill which was expertly saved by James Kinihan. Had they been as economical as Padraig Farrell’s men, the outcome could have been different.
Two months ago it was difficult to see this ending coming, which is one of the great things about sport in general and the GAA in particular. Everyone, myself included, had Castledaly written off. Few would have looked outside Tyrrellspass or Garrycastle when predicting where the Flanagan Cup would spend the winter. Padraig Farrell deserves enormous credit for turning his team’s season around and guiding them across the finishing line. There is no reason for them not to go far in the Leinster club championship.
Two out of three ain’t bad
Two of Westmeath’s three all-star nominations are celebrating this week after being named as part of this year’s Vodafone all-star team. Although the team was announced on Wednesday, the awards ceremony takes place tonight (Friday ).
Tubberclare’s popular number one Garry Connaughton finally got his hands on a coveted All-Star. The Westmeath cul-baire was unlucky to lose out in 2004 but at least the selection committee got it right this time around. Meanwhile Rosemount’s John Keane has found a comrade for the award he picked up in 2004. Indeed Keane has a busy few weeks ahead as he heads down under on Saturday as part of Sean Boylan’s compromise rules team.
He’s due to return on November 7 just in time for the GPA awards on that night. Michael Ennis can count himself unlucky to have lost out, having had an outstanding season as an attacking wing back. However he is still in with a chance of being honoured at the Opel Gaelic Players awards, as the same three Westmeath players have been nominated by the GPA.
This caps off a memorable if somewhat unlucky year for Westmeath footballers in which, after being crowned division two champions, they came agonisingly close to beating both Dublin and eventual all-Ireland champions Tyrone.
The fact that only four of this year’s chosen all-star team did not play in the all-Ireland final, adds further merit to the lads’ achievement. The people of Wexford in particular and perhaps Cork will lament their sides’ failure to secure an all-star award, but nobody can argue with the Westmeath duo. If anything the fact that they both were chosen adds credit to the selection process.