Mixed emotions were the order of the day at the end of a thrilling All-Ireland club football final last weekend. For three quarters of the game Garrycastle made little of their underdogs tag as they out-fought, out-smarted, and out-scored their highly acclaimed opposition. The final quarter however belonged to the men from Crossmaglen who refused to surrender and with a monopoly of possession around midfield they pressed hard until the equaliser came from the boot of David McKenna.
In the end there was a palpable feeling of relief in the green and red camp that they had lived to fight another day. Crossmaglen squandered numerous opportunities in their bid to claim their sixth All-Ireland club title in the dying minutes but it would have been rough justice if Garrycastle were denied a second bite of the cherry.
The huge Garrycastle support which departed Athlone and indeed elsewhere in Westmeath got full value for their outing to GAA headquarters. Right from the throw-in it was clear that Garrycastle were there to do a job and were in no way overawed by the occasion or intimidated by their opposition.
Dessie Dolan settled nerves with a pointed free after two minutes and first cousin James extended it before the reigning champions got off the mark. The green and red army heaved a collective sigh of relief when referee Rory Hickey brandished Paul Dillon with yellow when a red looked imminent. While it was a head-push on his opponent rather than a head-butt Dillon can still count himself lucky.
The Westmeath champions held a slender 0-6 to 0-5 lead after 18 minutes when Paddy Mulvihill pounced on a Seanie Donoghue sideline to finish superbly to the corner of Paul Hearty’s net.
Garrycastle were full value for their 1-8 to 0-7 half-time lead and indeed could easily have been further ahead at the short whistle.
Five minutes after the restart came the next big talking point with the dismissal of Tom McHugh for a second yellow. Crossmaglen full back Paul Kernan followed suit shortly after. Both were harsh sending offs.
As the game entered the final quarter Garrycastle began to falter in the vital midfield sector where Crossmaglen started to hoover up the breaks. Jamie Clarke, who was a thorn in the Garrycastle defence throughout, saw his effort come back off the Garrycastle post and be cleared to safety. Four unanswered points saw the Ulster kingpins draw level with 10 minutes remaining.
Dessie Dolan and Paddy Mulvihill helped to stem the Cross tide with two valuable points but it was one way traffic after that as Crossmaglen dominated possession. McConville and McKenna brought them level but in the dying minutes the men from south Armagh uncharacteristically wasted four opportunities to snatch a winner.
Over the hour a draw was perhaps the fairest result. Talk of Garrycastle having missed the proverbial boat would be to underestimate the resolve of this group of Garrycastle players. Yes they have to face a Crossmaglen side which will now include team captain Stephen Kernan who returns from suspension. But it will still be 15 against 15 and many of the Garrycastle players can up their own performances in the replay. Add in the fact that this group of Garrycastle players have never lost a replay and you soon realise that they have every reason to travel to Kingspan Breffni Park, Cavan on Saturday March 31with confidence. What a cracker that promises to be.
Kingspan Breffni Park, Cavan has been confirmed as the venue for the replay with a 5pm throw-in on Saturday March 31.