As county finals go this was quite bizarre. For two thirds of the game Garrycastle looked to be on course to collect their fourth Flanagan Cup on the trot without being asked too many questions. Never out of third gear and holding a 3-7 to 1-4 lead early in the second half the reigning champs could well be forgiven for thinking they had at least one hand on the cup.
The final 20 minutes however belonged well and truly to Shamrocks who showed incredible resilience and fitness to battle back to level terms and ultimately fluff numerous gilt-edged chances of recording a famous victory.
In the end a draw was a fair result. Garrycastle can rightly feel aggrieved at not being awarded a free-in for a foul on Conor Cosgrove as they clung desperately to a one point lead. Shamrocks have only themselves to blame as they bottled four or five match winning opportunities in the final few minutes.
The atmosphere in Cusack Park was quite muted throughout the opening half but the excitement of the final quarter left everyone in attendance in no doubt that they had got their money’s worth.
Both sides have plenty to ponder as they prepare for the replay which is fixed for this Sunday at 2.30pm in Cusack Park. Shamrocks will glean huge confidence for the manner of their comeback. They certainly seem to hold an edge in fitness.
Two areas they will need to address this week are the need to cut out simple defensive errors and greater efficiency in front of goal. Two of the goals they conceded were very soft indeed. They also hit eleven wides over the hour compared to Garrycastle’s one. They will also be hoping that Donie Donoghue has recovered from illness which saw his forced retirement after just 36 minutes.
The Green and Reds can look back to last year when in similar circumstances they came good in the replay. They are also more economical up front when they move the ball quickly.
Paul Clancy’s biggest headache this week is deciding what is his best starting 15. Personally I think that while Sean Brennan is a fine keeper with a bright future, Cathal Mullen would offer more stability to the backline at present.
Midfield is also an area Garrycastle will be seeking improvement in and I expect both Seanie Donoghue and David O Shaughnessy to see more of the action in the replay.
Mark McCallan picked up an injury in the warm up and Dessie Dolan received a dead leg in the opening minutes with certainly didn’t help their cause. Both have been busy this week with cryotherapy treatment as they attempt to be fit for action again on Sunday.
The bookies have again installed The Castle as warm favourites but that won’t worry the Mullingar men too much. At this stage Shamrocks have nothing to fear but will still need everything to go right for them if they are to upset the odds.
I have a feeling that there is one big performance left in the reigning champs and that while the writing may be on the wall for many of their long-serving players, they won’t give up their crown easily.
Garrycastle were hit with a tsunami in the final quarter but still lived to fight another day. The replay will again be close but their knack of winning tight games should yet again prove decisive. It promises to be another cracker.