Westmeath SFC final (Sunday 3.30pm, Cusack Park )
Reigning champions Garrycastle and Mullingar Shamrocks go head-to-head on Sunday in what has the makings of a great county decider. The Castle are warm favourites to collect back-to-back titles but the Mullingar side have the potential to pose a serious challenge.
When the sides met in the group stages it was Shamrocks who came out on top. However Garrycastle were without several regulars that day including talisman Dessie Dolan. If anything that loss will provide extra motivation for Anthony Cunningham’s men and help focus their minds.
Shamrocks edged out The Downs in their semi-final but were far from impressive on the day. Perhaps the fact that it was a derby match and they hadn’t played in a number of weeks can be used as an excuse for their lacklustre performance. They will be well aware however that a much improved display will be needed if they are to spoil Garrycastle’s party.
Garrycastle were totally outplayed in the opening half of their semi-final against Killucan. At half time their championship aspirations looked to be in serious jeopardy. Yet whatever Anthony Cunningham said at the break certainly had the desired effect as his side were completely transformed in the second period and grabbed the game by the scruff. On that display they are worthy favourites.
So who is going to lift the Flanagan Cup on Sunday evening? In short I expect Garrycastle’s greater experience and firepower to prove decisive. They also would seem to have more options on the bench. Mullingar have collected a number of u21 titles in recent years and while they look well placed to capture a senior title in the coming years I don’t think this will be their year.
Shamrocks do have big men in the middle third of the field but Garrycastle also have size in that decisive sector. The return of David O’Shaughnessy, Justin McAteer, and Rory McGowan has been a major plus for the current holders. James Duignan, Aidan Browne, and Shane Mulvihill are all in contention for places as they return from injury.
Both sides are capable of scoring goals - Garrycastle have scored eight enroute to the final while Shamrocks have scored seven. In their semi-final once Enda Mulvihill was introduced at the break and the defence was re-jigged, Garrycastle looked very difficult to break down. Goals are always vital, particularly in finals and I think Anthony Cunningham’s men are most likely to get them on Sunday.
The Mullingar side have got to the final unbeaten, despite having to play many of their group games without three key players, Kieran Gavin, Denis Coroon, and Daragh Daly. Gavin is doubtful for Sunday’s game having undergone an operation on a broken finger - yet could be called on if needed. Coroon and Daly will strengthen their hand considerably around the middle.
Word has it that Garrycastle have been very impressive in recent challenge matches, drawing with both Corofin and Kilmacud Crokes. Ray Smyth’s men are sure to test Garrycastle to the limit but I expect the Flanagan cup to spend the winter in the south of the county.