Dolan seeks Boden repeat
Garrycastle 3-11 Ratoath 2-12
Gary Dolan was Garrycastle captain when they toppled Ballyboden St Enda's at the Leinster semi-final stage exactly a decade ago.
Now he's their manager, hoping that history can repeat itself after this absorbing two-point victory over Ratoath yesterday - culminating in a late bout of goalmouth panic stations for the winners - set up a ten-year reunion with the Dublin champions.
"I was captain back in '09 when we beat them here," Dolan recounted.
"Michael Darragh Macauley was playing that day too. As you know, he's still a phenomenal footballer - and they've loads of them. I've seen them on TV a few times over the last few weeks, and they'll take stopping."
And yet Garrycastle, when in the mood, can take some stopping too.
They are a vastly experienced outfit on the provincial club circuit - unlike the first-time Meath champions who got off to a flying start in Mullingar with the first two points only to be run ragged for much of the first half.
Alex Gardiner's clinical sixth-minute goal settled Garrycastle. It stemmed from a raking assist from Dessie Dolan, their 40-year-old talisman, who battled through illness for a productive first half before exiting at the break.
Garrycastle's slick interplay continually stretched Ratoath, who were held scoreless for 23 minutes while conceding 0-7 on the spin. And when Joey Wallace escaped the foul attentions of his man only to be denied by 'keeper Seán Brennan, they had to settle for a consolation Eamon Wallace tap-over free instead.
Trailing 1-9 to 0-5 at the break, Ratoath appeared destined to follow the lead of so many recent Meath champions who have struggled to make any Leinster headway.
"We left ourselves a mountain to climb going in at half-time," admitted their manager, Davy Byrne.
"We started off with the sweeper role in the first half, and we were just overrun. They started running in numbers, coming from their own half-back line, driving at us. There were plenty of overlaps there, and we found it hard to handle that. The sweeper wasn't effective in that way, and they were picking off points easy.
"Half-time was the time to change it," added the former Dublin 'keeper, who made three substitutions while going man-for man. The decision to "throw caution to the wind" yielded almost instant dividends as his team shot an unanswered 1-2 within five minutes of the restart.
Admittedly, their 32nd minute goal stemmed from a sloppy defensive mix-up, sub Cian Rogers firing smartly to the net with Brennan caught out of his goals.
Ratoath's comeback appeared to fizzle out just as quickly as Garrycastle sub Tom O'Halloran (36 minutes) and the livewire Michael Monaghan (42 minutes) found the net and then further points from Monaghan and a Ger Heneghan free stretched their lead to nine after 49 minutes.
But they wouldn't score again, and Garrycastle's decision to empty their bench threatened to backfire as Ratoath hit them for 1-4 on the spin while turning the screw on their kickout and launching a series of aerial bombs in pursuit of an unlikely escape to victory.
Sub David McGowan fisted one goal attempt narrowly over but found the net from a similar 61st minute chance. Then, with the margin down to two, they almost sneaked a winning goal deep in stoppage time, only for the ball to be scrambled out for a '45'.
"Look, we died with our boots on. We tried incredibly hard, but it was just too far, too late," Byrne concluded.
Ratoath had lined out without three of their Meath final starters - county star Bryan McMahon (on a family holiday in Korea), Jack Gillespie (torn cruciate) and Ben Wyer (tonsillitis).
For all Garrycastle's first-half supremacy, Byrne "thought we were the better footballing side" only to pay the price for their lack of experience.
But could their conquerors do a number on Ballyboden? "I would go at Garrycastle from the get-go if I was to do it all again," Byrne admitted. "But they're an experienced side; a strong, physical outfit; and they're strong across all lines. So, if Ballyboden are going to turn them over, they're going to have to play from the get-go."