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Monday 18 December 2017

Castle's final fantasy

Dolan hails 'unbelievable' win as Westmeath side seal maiden spot in SFC decider

Garrycastle (Westmeath) 1-11 St Brigid's (Roscommon) 1-9

DESSIE DOLAN is no stranger to historic settings. He knows what it's like to guide a team where no Westmeath team has gone before. And Saturday's landmark result inLongford ranks up there with the best of them.

Dessie was a pivotal member of the first (and only) Westmeath team to win an All-Ireland U21 title. He was the main man on the first (and only) Westmeath team to win a Leinster senior title.

Today, even as his county labours, his club soars onwards and upwards. Garrycastle are through to the All-Ireland club SFC final on St Patrick's Day, there to face arguably the greatest of them all, Crossmaglen Rangers.

"Ah, that was unbelievable because everyone on the pitch, you know them all -- and that's what makes it magical," Dolan enthused after toppling neighbouring St Brigid's at a raucous Pearse Park on Saturday afternoon.

"Then you come from Westmeath, and you don't expect (this) ... no one has ever done this kind of stuff. So in a way you're trying to break new ground which is obviously hard to do."

Absorbing

Garrycastle's 1-11 to 1-9 victory came after one of those absorbing contests that makes the AIB club championship such a special part of the GAA calendar. Leave aside the fact that you had next-door neighbours and a collection of cousins in rival camps. The match itself was replete with sumptuous scores, near misses, controversy, oscillations on the scoreboard (and in the weather) and a backs-to-the-wall performance from the 14-man winners.

When the dust settled, Garrycastle were deserving winners and thus become the first Westmeath team to reach an All-Ireland final (club or county) at senior level.

Typically, Dessie Dolan was central to it all. The 2004 All Star top-scored with seven points, two from play, while delivering an early contender for pass-of-the-season. But this was no one-man effort: indeed Patrick Mulvihill was most people's choice for 'Man of the Match' and the collective second-half effort in adversity was supreme.

Perilous

Put bluntly, it had to be given the perilous circumstances. Favoured marginally by a crossfield wind that seemed to favour shooting into the town-end goal, Garrycastle had exploded from the traps with three sublime early points from James Dolan, Paul Dillon and James Duignan only to be gradually hauled in by their Roscommon rivals.

The Kiltoom men edged ahead for the first time after Karol Mannion's 21st-minute goal -- "We got sucker-punched with the penalty," suggested Garrycastle boss Anthony Cunningham -- and they looked poised to push on when leading 1-6 to 0-7 at the midpoint.

Garrycastle had other reasons to feel sorry for themselves. They had borne the full brunt of Joe McQuillan's zero tolerance approach -- the yellow card count was 7-0 at half-time. Cunningham deemed some of the bookings "a bit over the top". "Soft enough," Dessie Dolan echoed.

It rose to eight before the resumption, Mulvihill retrospectively punished for shoving Garvan Dolan to the ground. The Garrycastle centre-forward had taken exception to Dolan's kickout challenge on Doran Harte, just as the half-time whistle sounded, prompting the game's only flicker of a neighbourly combustion.

"To be honest, I was saying to the guys at half-time that we were going well," Cunningham later insisted. "Maybe one or two of the players didn't agree with me! They were saying 'Oh Jesus, there's more in the tank'."

The tank was duly emptied, while self-belief soared in the wake of James Dolan's exquisite 37th-minute goal. Mulvihill was the instigator, cleanly claiming a Brigid's kickout and, later in the move, jinking inside two tacklers before popping a pass to the inrushing Dolan.

Dessie's cousin duly danced inside another relation (Garvan Dolan) and buried a low shot in the corner.

Pivotal

A brace of Dessie frees then edged the Castle four clear before two more pivotal moments. Firstly, Ian Kilbride's shot struck the base of a Garrycastle upright (possibly diverted by 'keeper Cathal Mullin) and then the yellow peril finally caught up on the Westmeath champions when veteran midfielder David O'Shaughnessy walked for dragging back Mannion.

O'Shaughnessy's first yellow, for a seemingly accidental collision with Darren Dolan, looked extremely harsh at the time. Either way, it left 14 men holding on ... even more so after Brigid's hit three unanswered points while, at the far end, Dessie Dolan's defence-splitting pass released his brother Gary for a goal chance that was snatched wide.

But then, holding onto a one-point lead, Garrycastle were granted an injury-time reprieve when Brigid's 'keeper James Martin was penalised for an illegal pick-up. Dessie slotted over, leaving their Ros rivals chasing a goal that never came, despite one last goalmouth scramble.

Afterwards, a gracious Brigid's boss Noel O'Brien declined to go down the excuses route.

Instead of blaming the warm-up injury shipped by playmaker Frankie Dolan (which may partly explain his peripheral contribution), O'Brien cited the middle-third dominance of the opposition.

He surmised: "You have to hand it to Garrycastle, they didn't allow us to play."

SCORERS - Garrycastle: D Dolan 0-7 (5f), J Dolan 1-1, P Dillon, G Dolan, J Duignan 0-1 each. St Brigid's: K Mannion 1-0 pen, S Kilbride 0-3 (1f), Cathal McHugh 0-2, N Grehan, I Kilbride, F Dolan (f), Conor McHugh 0-1 each.

GARRYCASTLE: C Mullin; E Mulvihill, J Gaffey, M McCallon; K Henson, D Harte, T McHugh; S O'Donoghue, D O'Shaughnessy; P Dillon, P Mulvihill, G Dolan; J Duignan, J Dolan, D Dolan. Subs: A Fox for McHugh (34), A Browne for Duignan (48), C Cosgrove for Dillon (51), A Daly for G Dolan (57).

ST BRIGID'S: J Martin; R Kelly, D Donnelly, G Cunniffe; N Grehan, P Domican, I Kilbride; K Mannion, G Dolan; D Dolan, Cathal McHugh, E Sheehy; F Dolan, S Kilbride, Conor McHugh. Subs: J Murray for Kelly (41), P Kelly for Sheehy (55), D Kelleher for D Dolan (57).

REF: J McQuillan (Cavan)

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