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Vincent's survive a roller coaster

WELCOME to the weird and wonderful world of the AIB Leinster club football championship. Where the final scoreline reads like a routine five-point win for the All-Ireland champions and masks a multitude.

After 25 minutes, St Vincent's led by 2-6 to 0-2 and Garrycastle were actually flattered that the ten-point deficit wasn't closer to 20.

"We were caught in the headlights, like a rabbit, and gave them 20 minutes of freedom," lamented their veteran manager, Dessie Dolan Snr, when it was all over at Parnell Park.

Some visiting fans from Westmeath, and even those denizens of nearby Marino, may have been tempted to head for the hills at that lopsided juncture. And if they had returned to their seat with 40 minutes of the hour elapsed? Well, it would have been akin to gatecrashing one of the more surreal scenes from Alice in Wonderland.

Gary Dolan had just blazed a trail through a quaking Vincent's defence before offloading to his cousin, James. The younger Dolan sent his drive fizzing towards the top corner, Garrycastle on the cusp of edging two ahead ... enter Michael Savage with a reminder of the cat-like reflexes that once made him Stephen Cluxton's Sky Blue heir-in-waiting. A pivotal moment in this oscillating and unexpected humdinger.

MOMENTUM

Alex Gardiner missed the resultant '45' but when Michael Monaghan advanced up an unguarded left flank to strike a 42nd minute equaliser, the rank outsiders had all the momentum. They had scored 1-7 without reply, either side of the interval; the All-Ireland kingpins were tottering over the provincial precipice.

In their moment of mini-crisis, however, wise heads and team leaders came to the fore. The holders' AWOL period had coincided with a lull from Diarmuid Connolly ... but then the All Star induced a late tackle resulting in a 44th minute pressure free converted by Tomás Quinn.

Two minutes later came a truly inspirational point, created by Connolly's scything run through the middle and crowned by Ger Brennan's emphatic finish off his weaker right foot. It was the centre-back's second point; but whereas his opener had served as double-digit embellishment on their early supremacy, this score underlined the priceless commodity of Brennan's go-to leadership.

As winning boss Tommy Conroy remarked afterwards: "That's what you expect of these guys, that have played the game at the top level. Tomás, Diarmuid, Ger, even Eamon (Fennell) in the middle of the field … and particularly Michael Savage, gets on with his game very quietly and he made some crucial saves there."

Already two up after Brennan's point, the contest was put to bed when Cathal Mullin took a black card for the team, dragging down Ruairí Trainor as he tried to round the Garrycastle netminder. A case of justice delayed: sub 'keeper Shane O'Connell's goal-line jig failed to distract Quinn as he placed the penalty for his second goal after 55 minutes.

CLASS

There was still time for that enduring class act, Dessie Dolan, to bring his personal haul to 1-5 from a free ... and for Quinn to emulate that tally (2-2) with an injury-time point.

A full hour earlier, in the third minute, Quinn had left Jack Donohoe for dust to arc an exquisite shot to the roof of Garrycastle's net. There followed a flurry of Vincent's points interspersed with unconverted goal chances. Mullin saved with his feet amid a scramble; the livewire Gavin Burke shot into the side netting; Ciaran Dorney pulled one effort wide and crashed another against the crossbar.

Eventually, Shane Carthy showed his colleagues how it should be done with a perfectly-placed 24th minute finish.

What happened next was hard to fathom. Such was Garrycastle's early apprehension, and ponderousness whether in possession or not, that you could well speculate that it became too easy for Vincent's, who consequently struggled to raise a gallop once Garrycastle landed a quickfire four points before the break.

The visitors followed up with two more from Dessie Dolan and a superb 37th minute goal from the same player, following a turnover after a short kickout and a slick lay-off from Monaghan. But Vincent's eventually regained their nerve and, shaken and stirred, now face Rhode of Offaly on December 14. "A reality call" was Conroy's summary, adding: "At this level anyway, you just cannot take your foot off the pedal."

Or as Quinn concluded: "The challenge is that if we play well for 20 minutes, that's not good enough - we've got to keep going. It's a strange feeling really because we've won the Leinster semi-final by five points but we're walking out of here quite disappointed. We know we have plenty of work to do."


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