The Road to Croke Park
In 2011 Garrycastle won their sixth Westmeath Senior Football championship title, and completed a famous three-in-a-row. This page gathers together the story of what was to be the most successful year ever for Garrycastle GAA Club, culminating in an All-Ireland Senior Football Club Championship final appearance in Croke Park.
The Road is long...
October 2nd, 2011
County Final day in Westmeath - Garrycastle looking for three-in-a-row, building on an unbeaten championship display in Westmeath. The challengers on the day coming from Mullingar Shamrocks (themselves in their second county final in-a-row).
Anthony Cunningham's last game in charge? Surely to be appointed Galway Hurling manager, this was a big one.
Huge belief in the club that an elusive Leinster Championship was within grasp - a first for Westmeath. Just needed to see out the county final to drive on in Leinster.
A massive wake-up call, as a strong and determined Mullingar Shamrocks team took the game by the scruff of the neck, and put it up to Garrycastle to respond.
Heading into injury time, 1 point down, a dark winter ahead. But, cometh the hour, so cometh the man, and deep into injury time, a well taken point from James Dolan gains Garrycastle a draw, and another chance for glory.
The great escape? It remains to be seen.
Match Reports: Irish Independent
Garrycastle 0-11, Mullingar Shamrocks 1-8
October 23rd, 2011
A huge Garrycastle crowd returns to Cusack Park for the much anticipated county final replay.
A truly miserable late autumn day, and the game started well for Garrycastle, James Duignan finding the net after only 4 minutes. However, Shamrocks took up the challenge and at half-time were 3 points to the good, and well worth their lead.
However, after the half-time break, the Garrycastle comeback picked up steam, and in a stunning period of football, they not alone overturned the Shamrocks lead, but kept the challengers scoreless in the second half.
Match Reports: Garrycastle Web-site, Irish Independent
At the final whistle, Garrycastle are ahead by three points. The three-in-a-row is won, and the drive for Leinster is on. Huge celebrations as the team is rightly feted by the very cold and wet, but very happy, crowd!
Garrycastle 1-9, Mullingar Shamrocks 0-9
November 13th, 2011
Onwards into the winter, the Leinster Quarter Final was in familiar surroundings in Cusack Park, Mullingar against the Longford champions, Longford Slashers.
A repeat of the Leinster championship first round in 2010, when Garrycastle emerged victorious by a single point, following a star turn by Dessie Dolan. Some little trepidation in the ranks that this would be a close affair, but as often happens in gaelic football, it was not to be.
Right from the off, Garrycastle took charge, and never looked to be in any real danger from a weaker than expected challenge from the Slashers. Despite a determined push from the Slashers in the second half, in the end, the scoreline said it all as Garrycastle ran out convincing winners.
Match Reports: Longford GAA Online, Irish Independent
Garrycastle 4-11, Longford Slashers 1-6
December 4th, 2011
Garrycastle 1-10, Athy 1-06
On to Newbridge for the Leinster semi-final. A cold, cold day, as the very large Garrycastle contingent make their way across country, to a new ground for the club.
Of their opponents Athy, what is known is that they are young and hungry, and will put up an extremely strong challenge to the Garrycastle dream. The Athy team has 10 Under-21's in their midst, and a number of younger players. The ground is wet and heavy, and fitness will be to the forefront in this match.
A tight first half set the scene, and honours were even at 0-4 apiece at the half-time break. As the second half gets going, Garrycastle stretch into a 3 point lead, only for that lead to be wiped out by a well taken Athy goal.
However, experience came to the fore as points from Alan Daly and James Dolan steadied the ship, and the coup-de-grace is applied by Gary Dolan who tucks away a goal, when a shot from Dessie comes back off an upright.
Match Reports: hoganstand.com, Irish Independent
December 18th, 2011
Garrycastle 1-08, St. Brigids (Dublin) 0-10
On a cold December day, the short trip to Tullamore for the Leinster final. Memories of the same ground in 2009, of losing out to Portlaoise still fresh in the memory.
Tullamore bedecked in red-and-white as a huge St. Brigids contingent travel down from Dublin, Santa Claus'es everywhere, flares in the stand, and the game not even started.
Garrycastle start at a breakneck pace, St. Brigids look shell-shocked, and at the break Garrycastle are good value for their 0-6 to 0-1 lead. Second half starts in the same vein, Two more points tacked on, game looks safe. And then...20 minutes to go, and St. Brigids start to dominate, 8 unanswered points tieing up the game.
Is it to be heartbreak again? But then, in a moment of madness, a late challenge on Mark McAllon results in a free from 35 meters out, and substitute Conor Cosgrove steps up to take arguably the most important free in Garrycastle history. Silence from the Garrycastle crowd as he sizes it up, breath held by everyone in red-and-green willing the ball over the bar...it's straight and true, and Garrycastle win. A mass invasion of the pitch by the red and green supporters....John Gaffey accepts the cup, people crying on the pitch, elves going berserk.
The holy grail is achieved. The first Westmeath club team to win the Leinster club championship. Now, the dream gets so much bigger...
Match Reports: Garrycastle Web-site, Irish Independent, Irish Examiner, Dessie Dolan interview, Martin Breheny - The Dolan Clan
February 18th, 2012
A whole winter of waiting it seems. Hype everywhere. Two neighbouring clubs representing their respective provinces. Extra spice added to the clash due to the number of Dolans on either team, "Cousins: The Rivals!" almost.
A brilliant atmosphere in the whole area leading up to the game. Only one topic of discussion - who can win it? New strips for both teams due to the colour clash, Garrycastle will play in a mostly red strip.
All of Garrycastle en fete. Red and green colours everywhere. Flags, bunting, cars painted, breakfast in Dans, (with good west Cork black pudding!), even the postman in on the act, (a St. Brigids man!).
Huge crowds travel to Longford - a real festival atmosphere. Meet people from both sides of the town (and much farther afield).
Game starts well for Garrycastle, early points to steady the ship, before St. Brigids win a penalty and convert it to take the lead. Yellow cards everywhere - all to Garrycastle it seems, and at the break, Garrycastle two points down. Second half starts at a frantic pace, and the reward is a goal from James Dolan after a sublime pass from Paddy Mulvihill. Game on - and Garrycastle push on to take the win by two points.
Croke Park on St. Patricks day beckons - all roads go only one place now.
Match Reports: Garrycastle Web-site, Irish Independent, Divided Loyalties, Buzz Building...
Garrycastle 1-11, St. Brigids (Roscommon) 1-09
March 17th, 2012
Dublin on St. Patricks day - meet a few Rangers fans walking in to see the parade, they think we're heading home already! Into Croker - hurling ready to start, great buzz around the stadium. Cheer on the Offaly men in the hurling, (support the neighbours!), but to no avail.
Pessimism from the Coolderry fans - "We can't see ye holding Cross', but best of luck to ye anyway".
Indescribeable feeling watching the red-and-green warming up on the Croke Park pitch. Pride, anxiousness, anticipation - all present and correct. 25,000 people in Croke Park, it's a long way from the Westmeath county championship. Watching Cross' go through their warm-up, they look big and determined. But Stephen Kernan is suspended, so maybe...
Game starts and Garrycastle flying. Taking the game to Cross' from the start, no fear being shown, taking the points. Danger - Paul Dillon acts rashly, and just for a moment the fear is of a red card, never was a yellow card welcomed with so much relief. Garrycastle showing that they are here on merit, Paddy Mulvihill finding the net, and Garrycastle up by 4 at the break.
Cross' pile on the pressure in the second half, and slowly reel in the Garrycastle lead. A second yellow for Tom McHugh ends his afternoon, and Garrycastle down to 14 men. Crossmaglen soon the same as Paul Kernan picked up his second yellow. A frantic last 15 minutes, some heroic defending - including a goal line clearance from Mark McAllon to keep the game alive. Heart in mouth time for the last 5 minutes plus injury time, but at the end, the scores are level and it must all be done again.
What a year this has been...
Match Reports: Garrycastle Web-site, Irish Independent, Underdogs, Minute-by-minute - TheJournal.ie, Dermot Ryan - A GAA Life
Garrycastle 1-12, Crossmaglen Rangers 0-15
March 31st, 2012
On to Kingspan Breffni Park in Cavan for the much anticipated replay of the All-Ireland Club Football final. Some worry that Garrycastle had left it behind them on St. Patrick's day, but overall optimism that the title is still there for the winning.
Again, a huge red-and-green contingent travels north, but this time are easily outnumbered by the large Armagh presence, bolstered by there being an Armagh team also in the curtain raising Colleges senior football "B" final.
A strange atmosphere - more intense than anything seen to date on this odyssey. Real intent coming from the large black and amber following. Aggression from the start on the pitch has the Cross' team muscle Garrycastle from the bench at the pre-match photo stage.
Garrycastle get no time to settle, Crossmaglen blitz them from the start, and twice in the opening half breach the Garrycastle backline to score two goals, and lead at half time by 10 points. A much re-shaped Garrycastle team takes the field after the resumption, and get a fillip from a goal by Gary Dolan shortly after the restart.
However, that was as close as it was to get, and Crossmaglen finished strongly, pulling away from Garrycastle. In so doing, they showed why they were champions 5 times previously, and set a new benchmark for club football in Ireland.
So, the dream for Garrycastle, (for 2012), was over. They had put together a fantastic run, taking them to the cusp of All-Ireland success. Sadly, on this occasion, it was not to be, but the future holds great promise for this team.
As seen from the sideline, it has been some journey. Well done lads!
Match Reports: Garrycastle Web-site, Irish Independent, Irish Examiner, Minute-by-minute - TheJournal.ie
Garrycastle 1-07, Crossmaglen Rangers 2-19