Garrycastle face a tough test when they take on Kildare champions Athy in Newbridge on Sunday. Athy can be described as an up and coming team with as many as nine of their starting team under 21. Having reached the provincial decider in 2009 and the semi-final last year, Anthony Cunningham’s men have a definite edge in terms of experience and at this stage of this particular competition that could prove crucial to the outcome.
Despite further drainage work carried out last year to St Conleth Park, the going is bound to be very heavy on Sunday, but if anything that should be a plus for Garrycastle.
Garrycastle will enter the game as slight favourites but will be keenly aware that nothing short of a top drawer performance will see them through to a coveted Leinster final spot against either St Brigid’s (Dublin ) or Portlaoise.
The three-in-a-row Westmeath champions have no injury concerns ahead of the clash and have received a welcome boost with the availability of Aidan Browne who has recently returned home from the Lebanon.
Athy will be without the services of their fullback Brian Kinihan who dislocated his shoulder in their previous win over Old Leighlin. His absence is an undoubted loss to the Lilywhite champions. However they too have received a massive boost with the return of all-star defender Mick Foley from his travels to help their cause. Foley, who was awarded Kildare footballer of the year last week, captained the side to their county title before heading off on his travels. He will be expected to play a big role at either centre back or fullback on Sunday.
Other than the fact that the bulk of this Athy side have won numerous county minor and u21 titles in recent years and are expected to be major players at senior level in the coming years, it is difficult to gauge how good they are or how they will cope with this step up in standard.
In the opening game of their provincial campaign they were not overly impressive against Edenderry who themselves were no world beaters. Then they recorded a facile 10-point win over Carlow champions Old Leighlin in a game in which Athy were never tested.
They have never reached this stage of the competition before but any Kildare champions deserve enormous respect. Athy will certainly not fear Garrycastle and as a progressive young outfit will make a bold bid on home soil.
Athy’s greatest strength would seem to be their mobile forward line particularly their inside line and the Garrycastle rearguard will be well tested by the likes of James Eaton and Darach Mulhall.
Athy are also strong and mobile at midfield where Paddy Dunne is partnered by 19-year-old Kevin Feeley who is a player of huge potential. Their weakest sector would seem to be in defence and that is where Garrycastle have to take advantage.
Dessie Dolan is sure to deliver as always but a lot will depend on how the likes of Paddy Mulvihill, James Dolan, James Duignan, and Conor Cosgrove contribute. They have the potential to prove the difference if they click on Sunday.
David O’Shaughnessy was back to his best against Longford Slashers and along with Seanie Donoghue he has a crucial role to play on Sunday. With both sides boasting a strong set of forwards, the midfield battle will be vital. Whoever gets the greater supply to the inside line will be booking their ticket to the final.
Newbridge has not always been a happy hunting ground for Westmeath teams but that could all change on Sunday if Garrycastle play up to scratch. It is bound to be tight and tense but in such cases experience counts even more than youthful enthusiasm and that is why I expect the green and reds to scrape past the red and white of Athy.