Martin Breheny: Garrycastle’s Leinster glory spans generations for esteemed Dolan clan
I met Dessie Dolan Snr on my way into O'Connor Park, Tullamore for last Sunday's AIB Leinster club football final. Sporting the green and red of Garrycastle around his neck, he talked of his own experience in the Leinster club final back in 1972. He was playing for Athlone, who at one stage led Portlaoise by 10 points before being slowly reeled in.
Dessie had moved to midfield (alongside his brother Frank, father of the Dolan lads Frankie, Garvan and Darren, who are such a key part of the St Brigid's Roscommon team that won this year's Connacht title), but pulled a hamstring which, in normal circumstances, would have forced him off.
However, this was a provincial final so he stayed on, switching to corner-forward, where he hoped he might be able to grab an occasional score. Unfortunately for Athlone, the Portlaoise storm grew ever more fierce and they won by two points. "A right sickener -- we should have won," said Dolan.
Our chat turned to Sunday's final and Garrycastle's prospects of becoming the first Westmeath club to win the Leinster title.
"They'll all have to play fierce well -- if they do, they'll win it," he said.
"How are your own lads (Dessie Jnr and Gary) going?"
"Good now," he said. "Dessie took a right few belts in the semi-final, but he's grand. Gary has come on well after all the operations on his ankle. They'll do damage if they get enough ball."
I thought of Dessie Snr after 50 minutes had elapsed in the game, at which stage Garrycastle had conceded seven points in 10 minutes to see their eight-point lead cut to a single point.
The Dolan brothers had scored 1-6 of Garrycastle's 1-7, but with St Brigid's now at full momentum, it looked as if Dessie Jnr and Gary were about to suffer something similar to what their father endured 39 years ago.
St Brigid's drew level on the hour mark, but just when it looked as if the game was headed for extra-time, Garrycastle grabbed the winner through a pointed free by substitute Conor Cosgrove. What followed was a clear manifestation of what the GAA means in Irish life and the manner in which it's embedded deep in the psyche.
It took quite some time for the presentation ceremony to get under way as the joyous Garrycastle players shared the precious moments with their relations, friends and supporters. In fact, it took so long that the St Brigid's players would have been excused if they left the pitch.
But no, they waited patiently through the spontaneous celebrations and the formalities, exiting only after Garrycastle captain John Gaffey had completed his speech. They were probably on their way home by the time the last of the Garrycastle players left the pitch.
Dessie Dolan Jnr was among the last to depart. It was as if he didn't want to leave the scene of what he described as his best moment in sport. He had turned in a super performance on a day when it was generally accepted that he would have to produce something special if Garrycastle were to beat the favourites.
He did that and more, tormenting several St Brigid's defenders in an opening blitz which put down a clear marker that Garrycastle were in no mood to act out their supposed role as plucky, but limited opposition for Barry Cahill and Co.
Dolan has been turning in that sort of performance for many years, yet has been selected on the All Stars team only once. Indeed, were it not for Westmeath's Leinster breakthrough in 2004, it's highly probable that he wouldn't have received any All Stars award. I'm a member of the All Stars selection committee, so I have to share in the responsibility for that systems failure.
The problem is that there's too much emphasis placed on the latter stages of the All-Ireland championships when it comes to choosing All Stars. Of course, those big games should influence selections, but not to the degree that a player of Dessie Dolan Jnr's quality is deemed to be among the best forward line only once in a career which, so far, has spanned 13 championships.
There are several others, too, who have lost out because their county teams didn't last the summer course. It's a serious flaw in the All Stars system, one which could perhaps be addressed by introducing a month-by-month selection process rather than waiting until immediately after the All-Ireland final when the action from July, August and September is uppermost in everybody's recollections.
As for Dessie Dolan Jnr and his Garrycastle colleagues, the big question now is whether they can extend their Leinster dominance to the All-Ireland stage, starting with a clash with cross-Shannon neighbours St Brigid's Roscommon in February. That game will, of course, have an added attraction as the Dolan cousins battle it out for a place in Croke Park on St Patrick's Day.
Whichever family gets the big opportunity, it will be richly deserved as Dessie and Frank Dolan and their sons have done the football state some service on both sides of the Shannon.