Deadly Dolan cousins keep Garrycastle on glory trail
THEIR fifth Westmeath title, and all of them since 2001, copperfastened Garrycastle as the 'team of the decade' in the Lake County yesterday -- and they immediately turned their eyes to the bigger prize.
No sooner had last year's beaten provincial finalists dispatched local side Mullingar Shamrocks in Cusack Park to retain their county title than their thoughts turned to Leinster again. And not for the first time there was a Dolan or two in the thick of a Garrycastle win.
Veteran county star Dessie was a strong contender for 'man of the match', but he was edged out of the bit of crystal by his first cousin James (20), who scored a goal in the county final for the second year running. His 22nd-minute strike was vital as it set the Athlone club up with a four-point half-time lead.
The cousin, in fairness, played a big part in it, laying off a slick ball for the student to finish on the overlap.
"It's about time he started giving me the ball back!" chuckled the versatile youngster, who got yesterday's crucial score despite lining out at corner-back.
He also played a key defensive role when the Shamrocks rallied strongly in the final quarter and, like fellow defenders Alan Fox and Mark McCallon, is one of the youngsters that manager Anthony Cunningham hopes will help Garrycastle make a serious provincial bid again.
"You never know in Leinster, it really is one game at a time," stressed the former Galway hurler, who managed the Tribes' U-21 hurlers this season and, also managed Roscommon side St Brigid's to a Connacht SFC title four years ago. "It's Longford Slashers this day three weeks now and we got a very hard game from Clonguish here last year, so I expect they'll be very thorough."
Playing in their third successive final, Garrycastle didn't have it all their own way but the fare was less than vintage.
Despite racing into an early two-point lead, they soon found themselves three points down after Lorcan Smyth, son of Shamrocks manager Ray, scored a phenomenal individual goal, jinking and soloing past a series of defenders on a magnificent run from well inside his own half after five minutes.
Two quick frees from Simon Quinn, a serious contender for 'man of the match' despite finishing on the losing side, suddenly saw the defending champions staring at a three-point deficit in the 11th minute. But, as James Dolan noted, "I think that actually gave us a kick on to keep going; we knew they'd put it up to us and it probably came at the right time for us, at the start."
Switching captain Doran Harte on Smyth worked immediately and he also contributed a great point before two Dessie Dolan frees levelled it after 20 minutes and then his corner-back cousin rattled the net in a move that also involved Patrick Mulvihill.
A trademark Dolan free from the left wing put his side 1-6 to 1-2 up at half-time and Mullingar's Eddie Moore and Aarron Purcell struggled badly to control Mulvihill and Dolan, who operated an impressive two-man full-forward line.
Some weak kick-outs heaped pressure on the Shamrocks defence and, despite looking stronger at midfield, they hadn't scored for 21 minutes when the sides changed ends. They were unfortunate to lose Fiachra Spellman to injury before half-time and Donal O'Donoghue to another injury in the third quarter.
But they got a great chance to get back into it six minutes after the re-start, when a Smyth boomer hit the upright and fell to Cian O'Leary, who blazed his snap-shot over the bar.
Before they could blink there was disaster at the other end when Rory McGowan put the hard-working Paul Dillon through to bag Garrycastle's second goal, and points from Dessie Dolan and excellent sub Alan Daly quickly gave the champions a seven-point lead.
To their credit, the Shamrocks, chasing their first title in 10 years, refused to fold. Subs like county star Kieran Gavin (carrying a hand injury) and Westmeath U-21 captain Denis Corroon, as well as Aonghus Smyth and the excellent Quinn, piled on the pressure to cut the gap to four points with five minutes remaining.
Had goalkeeper Philip Shaw not slipped when taking a '45', it might have come back to three to really test Garrycastle's mettle but their greater bench depth and experience was underlined when they played 'keep ball' and Alan Daly slotted an insurance point.
Scorers -- Garrycastle: D Dolan 0-4 (0-3f), J Dolan and P Dillon 1-0 each, A Daly 0-2, D Harte, D O'Shaughnessy and R McGowan 0-1 each. Shamrocks: S Quinn 0-6 (0-3f), L Smyth 1-0, C O'Leary, D Corroon 0-1 each.
Garrycastle -- C Mullin; J Dolan, J Gaffey, A Fox; M McCallon, K Henson, D Harte (capt); S O'Donoghue, A Browne; D O'Shaughnessy, D Dolan, R McGowan; C Cosgrove, P Dillon, P Mulvihill. Subs: A Daly for Cosgrove (h-t), S Mulvihill for McGowan (50), J Duignan for Kenson (52), E Mulvihill for Fox (54), D Hermbusche for O'Donoghue (60).
Mullingar Shamrocks -- P Shaw; E Moore, A Purcell, M Irwin; M Curley, D O'Donoghue, A Smyth; G Doyle, D Daly; A Clinton (capt), L Smyth, S Quinn; F Spellman, C Curley, C O'Leary. Subs: D Corroon for Spellman (inj, 25), K Gavin for Doyle (40), A Corroon for O'Donoghue (inj, 45), D Moore for O'Leary (59).
Ref -- D Maher.