THE enduring class of Dessie Dolan was the key to 2009 provincial finalists Garrycastle qualifying for this year's Leinster club quarter-final after a closely fought contest with Longford Slashers in Mullingar yesterday.
Centre-forward Dolan called all the shots up front for Garrycastle, scoring 0-8 and being at the heart of the side's best moves. Nevertheless, Slashers put it up to the Westmeath men and in the end saw a last-gasp free fail to find the target as they chased a replay.
Wing-back Mark McCallon put the home team in front with a point after only 40 seconds. However, much of what followed was ragged and the sides were tied at 0-4 apiece at the end of a lacklustre opening 25 minutes.
The game then suddenly came to life when a shot by Longford's outstanding left half-back Paul Kelly came back off the Garrycastle crossbar and the ball fell kindly for Colin Smith, who despatched it low to the back of the net past Cathal Mullin.
The winners responded in impressive style with Dolan leading the charge.
Three quickfire points from play by Dolan (the score of the match), Seanie O'Donoghue and Paul Dillon levelled the contest again by the 29th minute.
In first-half added time, a successful Dolan free edged Garrycastle ahead to leave the half-time score 0-8 to 1-4 in favour of Anthony Cunningham's charges.
On the change of ends, two more converted frees by Dolan were cancelled out by a wonderful brace from play by Mark Smith to leave a point still separating the sides by the mid-point of the second half.
At this juncture, Dolan and Paddy Mulvihill combined to set up Rory McGowan, who seemed certain to find the net for Garrycastle. However, the half-forward hesitated and his point-blank shot was blocked on the Slashers goal-line by Garreth Ghee.
McGowan pointed from the rebound, but Denis Connerton's troops availed of the let-off to give as good as they got in the time remaining and the tit-for-tat scoring continued right to the end.
A minimum of three minutes' injury-time was signalled but, with the last kick of the match in the 64th minute, Colin Smith was unable to convert a very difficult 25-metre free from near the stand sideline.
With the ball still hanging in mid-air, the final whistle sounded, much to the relief of the Garrycastle supporters.
The Westmeath champions now face Louth's Mattock Rangers in the quarter-final in Mullingar on Sunday week.
SCORERS -- Garrycastle: D Dolan 0-8 (0-4f), M McCallon, S O'Donoghue, R McGowan, P Dillon, S Mulvihill 0-1 each. Longford Slashers: C Smith 1-2 (0-2f), M Smith 0-5 (0-3f), P Kelly, D Sheridan 0-1 each.
Garrycastle -- C Mullin; J Dolan, J Gaffey, A Fox; M McCallon, K Henson, D Harte; S O'Donoghue, A Browne; D O'Shaughnessy, D Dolan, R McGowan; A Daly, P Dillon, P Mulvihill. Subs: J McAteer for Daly (28 mins), S Mulvihill for O'Donoghue (inj, h/t), E Mulvihill for Fox (42), J Duignan for Dillon (47), D Hermbusche for McGowan (60 + 2).
Longford Slashers -- G Hourican; G Ghee, B Gilleran, D Glennon; P Brady, D Brady, P Kelly; N Mulligan, D Sheridan; T Glendenning, C Smith, A Murphy; M Smith, S Philips, S Flynn. Sub: M Tarmey for Murphy (42).
Ref -- M Deegan (Laois).