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Garrycastle upset St. Brigid’s, take Leinster title in 1-pt win

December 21, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Garrycastle players stand for the national anthem before the Leinster senior club championship final in Tullamore against Dublin champions St. Brigid’s.

YET again, the provincial club GAA Championships have thrown up a great story with Garrycastle from Westmeath claiming their first ever Leinster football title by defeating Dublin champions St Brigid’s by 1-8 to 0-10 in a nailbiting final at O’Connor Park in Tullamore on Sunday.

Recently, it was Coolderry from Offaly who upset the odds in the Leinster hurling decider.  No doubt, Garrycastle would have looked at their achievements and felt that they could could do the same.

There are quite a few similiarities in that they are both small clubs with very little to lose. St Brigid’s, on the other hand, would have had a considerable expectation level as the Dublin champions.

Yet, for much of Sunday’s decider they were outplayed by their Westmeath rivals. At one stage, eight minutes into the second half, they actually trailed by 1-7 to 0-2.

Only then did St Brigid’s produce the type of football they are capable of. Eventually, mainly through the efforts of an inspired Paddy Andrews, they levelled at 1-7 to 0-10 with the match heading for extra-time.

Most observers would have felt the game was up for Garrycastle as St Bridgid’s looked the fitter outfit. But there was one more twist to come as Wexford referee Syl Doyle awarded a controversial last minute free where the ball landed after a late foul on Garrycastle corner-back Mark McCallon.

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As the ball had landed 35 metres from the St Brigid’s goal, it gave Garrycastle a great chance to claim a historic victory. Up stepped substitute Conor Cosgrove and duly planted his kick straight between the posts for the winning point.

St Brigid’s had no chance to respond, the game was over. Needless to say, they weren’t pleased with the referee’s decision, coach Gerry McEntee preferring not to comment on the matter.

In truth, few would have argued had the free not been awarded. That said, nothing should be taken away from Garrycastle’s achievement. For most of the match, they made St Brigid’s look second rate and they would have felt very hard done by had the lost out.

Unsurprisingly, Garrycastle coach Anthony Cunningham argued that they just about deserved their victory.  He said: “That was a great St Brigid’s comeback but I think we edged it.”

Cunningham also believed that the referee’s decision to give his team the match-winning free was correct, arguing that McCallon was impeded as he went to kick clear. Either way,  the important thing is that Garrycastle nailed that late free and can now look forward to an All-Ireland semi-final meeting with near neighbours St Brigid’s from Roscommon in February.

That should be quite a match as the two teams have major family ties. There are several related Dolan’s included in either outfit.

One of them, Dessie Dolan was Garrycastle’s real hero on Sunday. The 32-year-old Westmeath star described the victory as probably the best of his career, given that were the outsiders going into the final.

For most of Sunday’s clash, he could do little wrong.  He landed four well taken points in the opening 15 minutes to enable Garrycastle go in 0-6 to 0-1 ahead at the break and leave St Brigid’s reeling.

The Dublin champions looked to be a spent force in their ninth championship game in 11 weeks. So, when Gary Dolan added a goal eight minutes in the second half to put Garrycastle 1-7 to 0-2 clear there seemed to be no chance of a St Brigid’s revival.

But somehow they started to dig themselves out of a hole. Paddy Andrews, so quiet for so long, was now inspired, firing over points from all sorts of angles.

His four points in five minutes helped to bring St Brigid’s back within range. Eventually, substitute Gavin McIntyre was to bring the Dublin champions level and the game seemed certain to go into extra-time.

Had it done so, Dessie Dolan admits the odds would have definitely favoured St Brigid’s. But Garrycastle were to get that one late opportunity which Cosgrave converted and they can now look forward to the All-Ireland semi-final clash with St Brigid’s from Roscommon and the meeting of those Dolan cousins in February.

 

Sexton is superb vs. Bath

JOHNNY SEXTON or Ronan O’Gara?  The debate continues after a Heineken Cup weekend which saw Leinster and Munster take important steps towards quarter-final qualification.

Leinster, inspired by Sexton, played some breathtaking rugby in demolishing Bath 52-27 in front of 46,365 at the Avia Stadium, while Munster were made to work a lot harder before seeing off the Scarlets 19-13 at Thomond Park on Sunday. Both sides now top their pools on the 16 point mark.

Whereas Munster weren’t at their best, Leinster certainly were for most of their match against Bath. It was only in the final quarter, with the match well and truely in the bag that they took their foot off the gas and allowed Bath in for a few late consolation tries.

Significantly, Sexton had been substituted along with a number of other frontline players at that stage. He was sublime in his 58 minutes on the pitch, scoring a superb try, and kicking six conversions and a longe range drop goal to finish with 20 points.

If he continues even close to this sort of form, Ireland must surely pick him as their starting out-half for the upcoming Six Nations Championship. Importantly, he is at 26 at the peak of his powers.

Frustratingly, his goalkicking deserted him during the World Cup, providing O’Gara with the opportunity to return to the side.  And, as he has proven subsequently for Munster, O’Gara, even at 34, retains one of the coolest heads in the business.

His mental strength is second to none, allowing him to be at his calmest when a match-winning penalty or drop goal is needed in the dying minutes. That is exactly when Ireland need his experience.

It makes more sense to start with Sexton because of  his superior attacking ability and greater physicality in defence.. Importantly though, he must convert a high percentage of his goalkicks.

Since he returned to Leinster from the World Cup, he has absolutely no problems in that regard. After hitting the post with his first effort on Saturday, he nailed seven out of the next eight.

But that was only one part of a wonderful all-round display. He continuously set up plays, kicked out of hand beautifully, and his try saw him 40 metres before touching down.

That said, this was very much a team performance which saw Leinster lead 45-6 at one point in the second half. Clearly annoyed with their inability to put away chances the previous week in Bath,  they were absolutely ruthless this time around.

A revitalised Luke Fitzgerald on the left-wing wasn’t far behind Sexton. He scored two tries, the second of which saw him dance pass a number of players in a fantastic effort as he ran in from the halfway line.

The other tries came from Rob Kearney, Eoin Reddan and substitutes Rhys Ruddock and Ian Madigan. Coach Joe Schmidt described some of Leinster’s play as “fantastic”  but was less pleased with the way they took their foot off the gas, and fell off some tackles  in the closing quarter.

Overall though this was a highly impressive Leinster effort. Munster, by contrast, were never really at their best in seeing off the Scarlets 19-13 the next Day at Thomond Park.

Then again, Munster have the ability to win when not at their best. On this occasion, they managed just one try through No 8 James Coughlan seven minutes into the second half.

His effort and the goalkicking of O’Gara eabled Munster to move 19-6 clear but they subsequently had to survive a Scarlets comeback which saw made for a very tense finish.

As always, skipper Paul O’Connell was totally honest. He said: “First, there’s always satisfaction in winning matches but there are definitely things we can improve on.

“It’s plain to see that we are doing a lot of good things but we are also our own worst enemy at times. We made too many mistakes but the good thing is that we again came out of a tight game on the right side.”

Some more good news for Munster is that Keith Earls returned after his injury problems to play in the centre. With Doug Howlett gone for the season, it was absolutely essential that Earls resumed.

Elsewhere, Ulster kept their hopes alive by securing a bonus point in a 46-20 away victory over Aironi in Italy. It was very much a case of job done against probably the weakest side in the competition.

Ulster scored six tries in all through Andrew Trimble, Tom Court,  Craig Gilroy, Robbie Diack, Adam Macklin and a penalty try. They now head the pool on 11 points but have huge matches against the other main contenders Leicester (home) and Claremont (away) to come.

Sadly, Connacht remain bottom of their pool, despite producing an outstanding display, away to Gloucester. With four minutes remaining they led 19-16 only to concede match-winning try after a missed tackle on Gloucester substitute Jonny May.

With Goucester  adding the conversion from wide out, Connacht went down 23-19. It was heartbreaking, particularly as the Irish province had done so well to move ahead with a fine try by Tiernan O’Halloran and some good goalkicking on the part of Niall O’Connor.

“Unfortunately, the better team lost.” remarked a frustrated coach Eric Elwood. “I thought our performance was magnificent, the guys are absolutely gutted to lose in such a manner.”

 

McIlroy is RTE’s top sportsperson

RORY McILROY earned another trophy when he was named RTE’S Sports Person of the Year.

The Ulster golfer’s achievement in winning the US Open by eight shots capped a wonderful year. The Sports Team of the Year went to the Leinster rugby side for capturing the Heineken Cup for the second time in three years, while Republic of Ireland soccer boss Giovanni Trapattoni was named Manager of the Year.

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