'He was one of the best humans I ever met' - Michael Darragh Macauley's tribute to late Ballyboden friend
Ballyboden St Enda’s 3-14 Garrycastle 0-12
A day of emotion in Mullingar, mingled with a ruthless reminder of Ballyboden's All-Ireland pedigree.
The emotion came with the realisation that this was Dessie Dolan's last ever game of competitive football - but not even the enduring accuracy of Garrycastle's 40-year-old talisman could keep the Westmeath champions within touching distance of their Dublin rivals.
And there was also emotion in substitute Michael Darragh Macauley's post-match interview where he paid tribute to Dermot 'Digger' Manley, a Ballyboden teammate who tragically passed away earlier this month.
"What was on my mind more than anything today was the loss of Dermot Manley. Dermot was an unbelievable human who came from this club, who played on championship winning teams for this club. You just don't know in life and in sport what's going to happen next," Macauley told RTE at full-time.
"We lost 'Digger' last week and nothing is going to be the same. We're looking at everything differently and I actually don’t know what to say to his friends and family.
"He was one of the best humans I ever met. If we had a few more like him the world would be a better place."
On-field, the first half of this Leinster club SFC semi-final was as good as Boden have been in recent weeks, reflected in the interval scoreline of 1-10 to 0-5.
Game only half over and yet game, set and match. Ten years on from losing to the same opponents, the Dublin champions returned to TEG Cusack Park carrying the demeanour of a team in a hurry to accomplish their mission.
An 11-point defeat was slightly unkind on Garrycastle, who cut the gap to five points during a third quarter rally. To no avail, as goals from Colm Basquel (deflected to the corner on 53 minutes) and James Holland (an unstoppable bullet on 57 minutes, after a one-two with Seán Gibbons) iced the cake.
But the margin wasn't overly cruel either. The gulf in upper body strength and athleticism was palpable, while Boden's conversion rate - 3-14 in winter conditions, just five wides and another couple short - was the metronomic stuff of genuine All-Ireland contenders.
First up, though, they must overcome Éire Óg to claim their second Leinster crown. Boden boss Anthony Rainbow is no stranger to several of their players, having previously managed Carlow, and he was adamant that his team will "have our hands full" on Sunday week.
That was also the suspicion before yesterday's road trip; but a flying Boden start quickly shredded that theory.
After just 12 minutes they led by 1-5 to 0-1, and already it appeared a case of damage limitation for the hosts.
Curiously, Garrycastle had been first to strike: Dolan's freetaking was faultless, nailing six from six, and his opener after 90 seconds gave Garrycastle the lead for the first and last time.
Colm Basquel levelled from a free before Robbie McDaid crowned his eye-catching solo burst through the centre of a parting green-and-red defence with a calm left-footed finish.
That sixth minute goal was the first of several such forays by the All-Ireland winning Dublin panellist, but it wasn't the only source of Garrycastle discomfort. Their kickout came under sustained early pressure, while Alan Flood and Ross McGarry proved there's more to this Ballyboden attack that a brace of Basquels.
Mind you, skipper Ryan came into his own with a brilliant 0-3 from play in the space of five second-quarter minutes as the gap extended to nine at one stage.
It might even have been worse for Garrycastle, who were indebted to last-ditch blocks by Mark McCallon and John Gaffey, the latter repelling a goal chance for Warren Egan.
"I think we had 18 shots in the first half. Our scoring efficiency from that was in around 66pc. It's a bit lower than what we're trying to hit but I'd take it any day of the week," said Rainbow.
"Our starts over the last couple of games have been quite slow - but we got a phenomenal start today."
On the cusp of half-time, Dolan rolled back the years with a sweet dummy that resulted in two Ballyboden men colliding as he stroked over the point.
When the second half opened with four Dolan frees and just a solitary riposte by McGarry, the deficit was down to five. But the flickering comeback didn't last, partly because visiting 'keeper Darragh Gogan made a series of adroit saves, denying Gaffey and later diverting goal attempts by Jason Nugent and James Sheerin over the bar.
In the midst of all this, Westmeath's most famous footballer departed for the final time to a rousing 50th minute reception. Both sides united afterwards in praise of Dolan who, as well as dragging his ageing legs through the soft ground, is a selector alongside his brother and manager Gary.
Rainbow, his one-time rival with Kildare, met Dolan on the pitch afterwards and congratulated him on a "phenomenal career". Garrycastle coach John Keane - his long-time Westmeath teammate - went further.
"Even out there today at 40 years of age, he's hitting frees, scoring from play, leading the way, directing traffic, everything. He's just an incredible man for this club," Keane enthused.
"I said it inside there in the dressing-room, any bit if success I ever had in my own career has been with Des, and I was just delighted that I was there today when he finished off."
SCORERS – Ballyboden St Enda's: C Basquel 1-3 (2f), R McDaid 1-1, J Holland 1-0, R Basquel, R McGarry 0-3 each, A Flood 0-2, D O'Reilly, C Keaney (f) 0-1 each. Garrycastle: D Dolan 0-7 (6f), E Monaghan, J Dolan, J Nugent , G Heneghan (1f), J Sheerin 0-1 each.
BALLYBODEN ST ENDA'S – D Gogan; B Dwan, S Clayton, K Kennedy; S Gibbons, R McDaid, B Bobbett; D McCabe, D O'Mahony; A Flood, C Basquel, D O'Reilly; R Basquel, W Egan, R McGarry. Subs: MD Macauley for McCabe (43), C Keaney for Flood (45), T Hayes for Egan (50), J Holland for O'Mahony (55), C Murray for R Basquel (57), C O'Reilly for McGarry (60).
GARRYCASTLE – S Brennan; M McCallon, J Gaffey, J Donohue; D Harte, M Guiheen, G McCallon; J Barrett, J Sheerin; A Monaghan, J Dolan, M Monaghan; E Monaghan, A Gardiner, D Dolan. Subs: J Nugent for E Monaghan (ht), C Cosgrove for D Dolan (50), M Greene for A Monaghan (50), E Mulvihill for Donohue (inj 55), G Heneghan for M Monaghan (57).
REF – D Gough (Meath). Dinan 0-1. MacHale Rovers: R Kearns 1-5 (1-2f), R Maughan 0-5 (0-2f), N Maughan 0-1.