Garrycastle crowned kings of Leinster

Leinster AIB club final

Garrycastle 1-08

St Brigid’s 0-10

In a proverbial game of two halves it was Garrycastle who held their nerve to write their names into the history books as the first Westmeath club ever to win the provincial title. In truth is it just rewards for a group of players who have been knocking on the door for the past few seasons.

Indeed the backbone of this team have been playing together for the best part of 20 years, having won every honour from u12 up. The bond and character that has developed in the squad over the years was tested to the limit when the Dublin champions kicked eight unanswered points to draw level with the finishing line in sight. A lesser team might have dropped their heads and thrown in the towel but Anthony Cunningham’s side kept battling and when referee Syl Doyle awarded a late free, substitute Conor Cosgrove showed amazing composure to kick the green and reds into the promised land.

It must have felt like Reeling in the Years for the likes of Cathal Mullin, David O’Shaughnessy, Dessie Dolan, and Alan Daly who have happy memories of Leinster final appearances in O’Connor Park at minor and u21 level.

Garrycastle made light of the difficult underfoot conditions and right from the throw-in showed that they meant business against their much fancied opponents. A foul after just 30 seconds on James Dolan was punished by cousin Dessie, who was quite simply majestic in the opening half kicking four points before the break.

The midfield pairing of David O’Shaughnessy and Seanie O’Donoghue were in total control and Donoghoe’s passing in particular was a feature of the opening half. The green and red defensive unit was watertight and their tenacious tackling throughout certainly upset their opponents.

Both sides missed scoring opportunities in the opening thirty minutes. Garry Dolan and Paddy Mulvihill both came close to finding the net. While the ‘Castle could have been further ahead at the break, St Brigid’s will surely have nightmares when they look back at the number of easy chances they squandered. Numerous close in frees were not converted while Ken Darcy missed the ball completely with the goal at his mercy.

The Westmeath champions enjoyed a 0-6 to 0-1 halftime cushion but will have been acutely aware that St Brigid’s are noted for their second-half comebacks. Paddy Andrews who almost single-handedly dragged the metropolitans back into contention kicked the opening point of the second half. Dessie raised the white flag for the fifth time to cancel it out. Then on 39 minutes Gary Dolan did what he does best by getting on the end of a dropping ball to rattle the net. This gave the Midlanders a commanding eight point lead with only 20 minutes remaining.

It was do or die for St Brigid’s and much of the last twenty minutes was dominated by them as they took control at midfield and Andrews in particular chipped away at the lead. They scored seven unanswered points in the 12 minutes after the Garrycastle goal to leave just one between the sides.

It was backs to the wall stuff for Anthony Cunningham’s men who must have been sickened when substitute Gavin McIntyre kicked the equalizer with a mere five seconds of normal time remaining.

With one minute of stoppage time signalled, the game was well and truly in the melting pot. St Brigid’s lost possession and when Mark McCallon was fouled as he delivered a long probing ball, the referee had no option but to give a free from where the ball landed.

The free which was to the right of the goals was far from straightforward, given the underfoot conditions and the importance of the kick. Substitute Conor Cosgrove was given the task of converting and he didn’t disappoint, sending the large Garrycastle following into wild celebrations which will die down sometime in the new year.

They say teams win matches and panels win championships. That was clearly evident in this historic win. Each of the Garrycastle substitutes made a difference when introduced. Alan Fox got on a mountain of ball when introduced while Aidan Browne played his part around the middle. Alan Daly won an important free while Cosgrove showed nerves of steel. Seventeen-year-old Justin Barrett was on the verge of being introduced and could well see action at some stage in February.

While the celebrations will continue around Dan’s Tavern and further afield over the Christmas period Cunningham will leave no stone unturned as he now prepares to do battle with his adopted club St Brigid’s in a mouth-watering All-Ireland semi-final. That game is fixed for Pearse Park Longford on Saturday February 18 at 2pm.


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