Garrycastle keen to avoid a repeat of 2009 'sickener'
SANTA Claus might well give O'Connor Park, Tullamore a miss tomorrow, on the grounds that his job is to spread festive cheer -- and somebody will be shedding tears at the end of the AIB Leinster SFC club final.
And having experienced the pain of defeat in the 2009 decider against Portlaoise, Garrycastle captain John Gaffey is in no mood for a repeat performance.
The memory of that wound is the biggest motivation for Gaffey and all connected with the Westmeath three-in-a-row champions as they face up to the challenge posed by Dublin club St Brigid's.
Reflecting on the 2009 final against Portlaoise, the skipper commented: "I remember personally just after losing, it was a real sickener.
"You never know if you're going to get back there again, so you have to take your chances when you get them. The disappointment of not playing our best was the main thing. I think we played very poorly on the day.
"It was as bad a performance as I can remember playing for Garrycastle. I'm not sure of the reason for that. Maybe we weren't geared up mentally for it but we definitely didn't put our best foot forward that day."
Credit to the Athlone-based club, they have kept the show on the road since '09, and now that they are back in the final, the hope is that the hard-earned experience of the past will help drive Garrycastle to victory.
"There probably is a bit of a feeling that the momentum is building," said Gaffey.
"Maybe in 2009 we could have been just happy to get to the final, although we weren't consciously thinking like that.
"There's definitely more hunger there this year and we haven't lost too many games over the last couple of years, so there's plenty of momentum there."
Garrycastle carry the banner not only for their own club and supporters, but also for Westmeath as no club from that county has won senior provincial honours.
Forty years ago Athlone GFC became the first Lake County champions to play in the Leinster club final, but they lost to Portlaoise.
A year later, in 1972, The Downs emulated Athlone by reaching the decider, only to fall to Dublin's St Vincent's. A long drought lasting 35 years elapsed until the next provincial final appearance by a Westmeath club.
The year was 2007, the club was Tyrellspass but the outcome was the same -- defeat again, with St Vincent's again crushing the men from the midlands.
Two years ago Garrycastle came to the fore, but that 1-9 to 1-5 loss to Portlaoise left Gaffey and Co devastated.
Tomorrow can be a day of atonement for club and the county in general.
"If we can win it will be a great Christmas for our supporters, and we'd love to do that," said Gaffey.
"It's not only for ourselves, but it's for Westmeath football as well. If we can be the first to cross that step it could open the door for another team going forward, and get that monkey off our back."
St Brigid's have come through a long, hard campaign to reach the final, but Garrycastle have had a few scares along the way and managed to survive unscathed.
That is testament to their experience and the spirit engendered in the side by manager Anthony Cunningham and his backroom team.
"Our toughest game? It was Mullingar Shamrocks in the county final," said the captain.
"We were dead and buried going into stoppage-time. We didn't play our best, but they're a quality outfit and we were a point down going into stoppage-time and got a draw with the last kick of the game.
"Then we won the replay, so that just shows the margins between winning and losing at this level.
"Longford Slashers wasn't really a hard match. Against Athy (in the semi-final), we didn't play our best but we definitely had our head screwed on and we used the bit of experience that we've built up.
"Athy could easily have won that game and we got a goal near the end to put a gloss on the scoreline, but I didn't think it was as hard as the Shamrocks games.
"Shamrocks have been gunning for us for the last few years. They're a young team and they're hugely hungry as well and I think they really did feel this year was their year. Thankfully we squeezed through."
The skipper would certainly take 'squeezing through' against St Brigid's, but knows that Garrycastle face a team with as much hunger for success as themselves.
"Brigid's have had an awful lot of games over the last period, the way the Dublin championship panned out," he said.
"They've got plenty of experience of winter football and that will surely stand to them as well.
"But we're a physically strong team so the winter football doesn't faze us too much, and then we have the classy footballers, the Dessies (Dolan) and the Paddy Mulvihills of this world, so they're normally able to put a bit of class on it up front.
"We do have a nice mix in the team and we've plenty of grit and experience built up over the last couple of years, so no team will ever beat us too easy.
"If we can produce our best form on Sunday, we're confident we can do it.
"We might come in as outsiders but with the mentality of the players we have, we're going to be a tough nut to crack, and Brigids are going to find that out."