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Des is ace of clubs

HE doesn't want to come across all corny but Dessie Dolan is a registered disciple of the "magic" of the AIB All-Ireland club championship.

And so he should be.

By his own admission, Dessie Dolan has "lost a hell of a lot more" than he's won in a wildly oscillating career which has enjoyed plenty of peaks and endured more than its fair share of troughs -- but he has never had such a sustained and consistent period of success as Garrycastle have provided over the past three years, leading to next Saturday's All-Ireland final meeting with club titans Crossmaglen Rangers.

"You don't want to sound cheesy or anything," he says, "but the club thing is magical. The scenes after our wins all year long have been incredible.

"We have built up a supporters' base from maybe 200 to 1,500.

"Around the town of Athlone it has been incredible and united us a bit.

"It's probably something the club needed badly. We had a good football team but in the last while the whole town has got behind us and it has been magical around the town."

Their 2004 zenith besides, Westmeath haven't provided Dolan with the opportunity to showcase his sublime, cerebral talents on the big space all too often, so Garrycastle's recent surge has granted a timely stage just when it seemed that he and his county side would fade into the Leinster backdrop.

Saturday's final could, according to the man himself, be his last appearance in Croke Park, so it would hardly be fitting of his own contribution to the game for both club and county if he went down with a whimper.

"I was kind of hoping to retire sometime but it's going ok," he jokes.

"I don't know, I'm enjoying my football at the minute. I'm fortunate to be playing with a good club and we have been successful over a long number of years. All you want to do is play well when you go out.

"I have had good days and I've had bad days and I've probably lost a hell of a lot more games than I have won but I'm definitely enjoying it at the minute. To play in Croke Park with your club is something you dream about and we are going to get the chance to do it."


Whatever about Dolan, one man who definitely won't be around in the Garrycastle colours again after Saturday is boss Anthony Cunnigham -- the dual-defying Galway manager whose gruelling schedule is, says Dolan, an offshoot of his own success.

"It's amazing, we can't get rid of him," Dolan laughs. "He said back at the county final, 'Look lads, I'm finished with ye because I think the Galway job is wrapped up and I'm just in negotiations with them or whatever to tie down a few things,' and he says, 'I'll stay with ye until ye get beaten'."

Famous last words ...

"He's stern, he's fair-minded -- things like timing, discipline and avoiding distractions," Dolan added.

"He's a unique man, the one thing about him is he could be training a team in the morning, another on the afternoon and then us.

"But you would never ever know he is after training a team earlier on and that he is sick of football or hurling or whatever he is doing."

Of course all this romance and talk of fitting farewells to Croke Park is all well and good but every fairytale has a bad guy and Crossmaglen Rangers fit that particular part ideally.

Dolan, naturally, is a big admirer, though.

"If a game is going to be won by a point," he surmises, "they are going to win it by a point.

"I don't know how they do it but you'd love to have their formula."

"We have played St Brigid's of Dublin and if they were playing Crossmaglen you'd still fancy St Brigid's to give them a right good game. St Brigid's Roscommon were probably unfortunate in the final last year, things didn't go their way.

"The important thing for us," he adds, "is not to get overawed by the occasion and try to put in a good performance.

"And if we do that, you never know what could happen."