Casey kicks insurance point as St Loman’s retain their title
John Heslin and Shane Dempsey both kicked five points from play in a pulsating replay of the Westmeath senior final, played in ideal conditions for football at a well-attended TEG Cusack Park last Sunday afternoon, St Loman’s, Mullingar deservedly retaining their crown by a four-point margin after they required extra-time to shake off a resolute Garrycastle outfit.
The Mullingar Blues now head last Sunday’s opponents by 9-8 in the roll of honour after securing their sixth Flanagan Cup in a glorious nine-year period since they ended a half-century famine in 2013. A small number of players were part of all six triumphs, including redoubtable skipper Heslin, whose consistent excellence in attack is almost taken for granted at this juncture, and the remarkable Paddy Dowdall in defence, the Army man garnering an astonishing 15th senior medal last Sunday (including nine Westmeath Examiner Cup wins with Clonkill).
After a taped rendition of Amhran na bhFiann, Declan Nugent – who had a fine game – threw in the ball. Early points from Peter Foy (via the crossbar) and Shane Dempsey (who more than justified his selection after coming off the bench in recent games) edged the holders ahead before Alex Gardiner converted a routine 12th-minute free for Garrycastle. Three minutes later, the same player scored a great goal after fielding Gary McCallon’s high delivery to the edge of the small square. Kevin Regan, who had missed Cullion’s game a day earlier in the Leinster intermediate club hurling championship, pointed to leave his side trailing by 1-2 to 0-3 at the first water break.
Remarkably, Gary Dolan’s charges failed to score in the second quarter, with their defence – where veteran John Gaffey often caught the eye – under pressure. The nearest they came was in the 21st minute when James Dolan was thwarted from point-blank range by Jason Daly. This came moments after Foy’s thunderbolt ‘goal’ at the other end had been disallowed for a thrown pass by Fola Ayorinde.
Dempsey doubled his tally in the 23rd minute – his high shot had initially been deemed a wide by the umpires at the Dunnes Stores end of the ground – before the hard-working Ronan O’Toole added a great point. Heslin had been relatively quiet until the closing stages of the first half, but his successful right-footed free on the half-hour mark (the ball having been moved forward for dissent) was followed by an outrageous left-footed point from an acute angle in the third and last minute of added-time. St Loman’s led by 0-7 to 1-2 at the interval.
Less than five minutes after play resumed, Eoin Monaghan scored the losers’ first point in 23 minutes. However, the lively TJ Cox availed of loose Garrycastle defending to score a fine goal in the 36th minute to put his side four points clear. The men in green and red had a lot of possession at this juncture, but they were denied goals by fine goalkeeping by Jason Daly, the first of his string of fine saves coming when he deflected Tom O’Halloran’s shot over the crossbar. Ayorinde was narrowly wide with a low shot for goal in the last action of the third quarter, but his side still led by 1-7 to 1-4.
When play resumed after the water break, Eoin Monaghan’s second point reduced the deficit, but three points in as many minutes put Declan Kelly’s side firmly in control. The scores came via Heslin (a quality finish), Sam McCartan (with his fist), and another from Dempsey. This left the holders ahead by five points (1-10 to 1-5) with just seven minutes of normal time remaining.
However, the South Westmeath outfit refused to throw in the towel. A low-trajectory shot from sub Cathal Mannion started the comeback, and points followed from Eoin Monaghan (after Conor Cosgrove’s goal attempt had been blocked) and a brace from Gardiner (a free and a ‘mark’). St Loman’s blew a glorious chance to wrap up the title when Cox unselfishly teed up Ayorinde, but he shot wide with the goal at his mercy. This left the challengers behind by the bare minimum with time almost up and up stepped goalkeeper Sean Brennan who converted a superb ‘45’ with the last kick to leave the sides tied at 1-10 apiece.
Dempsey and Gardiner (a free) exchanged points at the start of extra-time. A classy quickfire brace from skipper Heslin edged the local side ahead, before the respective number 14s, Gardiner (a free) and Heslin (when set up by O’Toole), swapped points. Demspey stylishly brought his tally to five with the last kick of the first extra period, to put his team three points clear (1-15 to 1-12).
Within two minutes of the resumption, Heslin’s palmed effort for a goal was smartly kept out by the advancing Brennan. Understandably, tired legs were in evidence all over the pitch, and sub Ken Casey scored the only point of the second period, the former Offaly player availing of clever play by Heslin to dissect the posts with four minutes remaining. There was no way back for Garrycastle at this stage.
After the match, the chairman of the Westmeath County Board, Frank Mescall, presented the Flanagan Cup to a very worthy recipient in John Heslin. The Ber Murtagh ‘man of the match’ award went to his colleague Ronan O’Toole, the far-from-unanimous choice of the press corps present in a game which had several standout performers on both sides.
St Loman’s: J Heslin 0-6 (1f), S Dempsey 0-5, TJ Cox 1-0, R O’Toole, P Foy, S McCartan, K Regan, K Casey 0-1 each.
Garrycastle: A Gardiner 1-5 (4f, 1m), E Monaghan 0-3, T O’Halloran, J Gaffey, S Brennan (‘45’), C Mannion 0-1 each.
St Loman’s, Mullingar: Jason Daly; David Whelan, Darragh O’Keeffe, Paddy Dowdall; James Geoghegan, Kelvin Reilly, Kevin Regan; Sean Flanagan, Fola Ayorinde; Sam McCartan, Ronan O’Toole, TJ Cox; Shane Dempsey, John Heslin, Peter Foy. Subs used: Oisín Hogan for Whelan (18), Ken Casey for Foy (56), Peter Foy for Regan (e/t, 7), Conor O’Donoghue for Dowdall (e/t, 15).
Garrycastle: Sean Brennan; Mark McCallon, Jack Donohue, Gary McCallon; Doron Harte, John Gaffey, Bill Kelly; Andrew Monaghan, Justin Barrett; Tom O’Halloran, Eoin Mulvihill, Eoin Monaghan; Michael Monaghan, Alex Gardiner, James Dolan. Subs used: Jason Nugent for M Monaghan (32), James Sheerin for Dolan (38), Conor Cosgrove for Kelly (47), Cathal Mannion for O’Halloran (52), Adam Kennedy for A Monaghan (e/t, h-t), Tom O’Halloran for Harte (e/t, h-t), James Dolan for Cosgrove (e/t, 16).
Declan Nugent (Maryland).