Tuesday 11 December 2018

Saints the hungrier

Brigid's will be more driven by sense of 'unfinished business' against near rivals

IN the long history of the AIB club championships, you will struggle to find a game laced with so much intrigue.

Two neighbours separated by four miles and a river (admittedly the widest in Ireland), and yet there is no competitive 'history' between them.

There is history of another type, however. It's called keeping it in the family -- you have four cousins in the Garrycastle camp ready to take on their three cousins from across the Shannon in St Brigid's.

That's six Dolans, one Fox, and a heady cocktail that promises to attract a massive crowd -- by club standards -- to Longford this afternoon.


As for who will take home the family bragging rights, Dessie et al or Frankie & Co, that question cannot be answered definitively for a variety of reasons. And no, we're not sitting on the fence -- it's just that All-Ireland club semi-finals are among the most difficult of games to second-guess.

The reason is one of timing. Garry-castle haven't played a competitive game for nine weeks, not since they withstood a second-half charge from another St Brigid's -- the Dublin version -- to claim a historic first provincial title in palpitating circumstances.

How, then, can you be sure whether Garrycastle will hit the ground running or find their Leinster momentum fatally stalled?

And yet Brigid's have been even longer in cold storage: their All-Ireland quarter-final against the London champions, Fulham Irish, occurred 11 weeks ago while their last genuinely close contest happened two weeks previously, on November 20.

That was a Connacht final remembered for all the wrong reasons, with Corofin's outrage at a sequence of debatable calls prompting fans and some players to surround embattled Mayo whistler Liam Devenney at the final whistle in Kiltoom.

Peel away the Galwegian angst, however, and Brigid's were blessed to survive with their Connacht title intact. If Corofin had taken all their first-half chances, and if their dubiously disallowed 'square ball' goal had stood, there probably would have been no way back for the south Roscommon crew.

Still, that they did is a testament to their character. They don't lack for quality, either, with a stellar inter-county spine that includes Peter Domican at centre-back, Karl Mannion at midfield and Senan Kilbride at full-forward.

All the while, you have their mercurial playmaker, 33-year-old Frankie Dolan, still pulling the strings. Nor has that deadball acumen dimmed since his Roscommon days -- some of his long-range strikes against Corofin essentially turned the tide.

If Frankie remains pivotal to Brigid's, his first cousin Dessie Dolan is arguably more important to Garrycastle.

A recurring Dessie trait is an ability to explode from the traps as a game is taking shape. The other St Brigid's have already discovered this to their cost: the 2004 All Star had already struck four quality points (three from play) in the first 13 minutes of the Leinster final, firmly establishing their first half platform of dominance. Suffice to say, Dessie hardly qualifies as a secret weapon and you suspect that Brigid's will feel they are halfway to a second consecutive All-Ireland final if they can stifle the Garrycastle talisman.

Countering that, they were worryingly slow out of the blocks in both the Connacht semi-final and final.

While the elder Dolan remains their go-to forward, Garrycastle possess a rich seam of inter-county pedigree and battle-hardened experience. Goalkeeper Cathal Mullin, centre-back Doron Harte, veteran midfielder David O'Shaughnessy and Gary Dolan (Dessie's brother with the goalscoring knack) have been around the block for both club and county.


To this seasoned core you can add Westmeath players of more recent vintage, John Gaffey and James Dolan, coupled with the mercurial Patrick Mulvihill and a bench that has made a difference this season (particularly Conor Cosgrove, who nailed the match-winning free against Brigid's).

All things considered, Garrycastle tick many of the boxes of an aspiring contender. Their ascent to the Leinster summit was no one-season wonder, their credentials established over several painstaking campaigns.

They will view today as their once-in-a-lifetime chance to qualify for Croker on St Patrick's Day. And in a local derby, there is no such thing as red-hot favourites.

But Brigid's appear to tick a few boxes more. They have more experience at this rarefied level. They possess a number of proven match-winners. And, you suspect, they are driven by a sense of unfinished business after last year's galling All-Ireland defeat by Crossmaglen.

ODDS: St Brigid's 8/13, Draw 7/1, Garrycastle 7/4 VERDICT: St Brigid's

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