He batted away an interview request to discuss his future though the end of the line loomed and, unsurprisingly, he confirmed as much yesterday.
At 34, the former All Star isn’t the future of Westmeath any more and officially retired. Behind the scenes, he may still be required to help bridge the gap to a new era with a young team. John Heslin could certainly do with some of Dolan’s sage counselling in the coming weeks and months. Heslin missed a routine free late in the game and, with his team losing by a point, he will inevitably bear the brunt of fans’ frustrations.
Dolan did something similar back in 2003, booting a 20 metre injury-time free wide and blowing the chance for a first Championship win over Meath.
The Garrycastle man bounced back, of course, winning a Leinster medal and his All Star the following year though the Lake County are some way off those heights now. They lost every single game this season — two Championship matches, seven league games and three O’Byrne Cup ties — and face an uncertain future.
Boss Paul Bealin insisted he will remain in charge and refused to apportion any of the blame for defeat to Heslin who top scored with four points. “I’m not putting it down to one kick in a game,” said Bealin. “I’ve seen John Heslin. He’ll do it in the future for Westmeath in terms of scoring and winning games. He’s done it in the past and he’ll do it again.
“I was always successful as a player and as a manager so this is a hard one to swallow. Those players in the dressing-room, I feel for them. They have given it everything.”
As for his own future, the ex-All-Ireland winning Dublin midfielder stood defiant.
“I came in for three years and had the option of choosing two other counties but I chose Westmeath because I firmly believe they have some excellent players,” continued Bealin.
“We have a really good, young panel. They are very young. If you take Dessie Dolan and Denis Glennon out, you are left with everyone aged 24 or under. They are young and naive but with a little bit of experience they can do well.”
Cavan are, perhaps, a template which Westmeath can follow. The Breffni Blues have enjoyed much U-21 success in recent seasons and their seniors are kicking on now.
Mind you, they looked anything but comfortable in the last 13 minutes when they watched, seemingly powerless, as a seven-point lead was reduced to just one.
John Gilligan shot a 58th minute goal for Westmeath after a great ball in by key man Callum McCormack. In the end, Cavan just about held on and head into this morning’s Round 2b qualifier draw knowing they could potentially face Armagh again.
They lost to the Orchard in the Ulster championship earlier this month.
“It was critical to bounce back after that bad defeat to Armagh,” said Cavan forward Mickey Lyng. “Another defeat would have been a s**t year, especially after reaching Division 2 of the league and looking forward to the summer.
“We would have been ripping if we’d lost. In fairness, it felt more comfortable than a one-point win. Near the end, we were cruising and the goal just got them back into it.”
Eugene Keating and Cian Mackey stepped up their recovery from injuries with substitute appearances. Fergal Flanagan will be available for their next game after a one-match ban picked up for the pre-match brawl in Armagh. But Martin Dunne’s hand injury, suffered in that brawl, will keep him out for two more months.
Scorers for Cavan: N McDermott (1-2, 0-2f), J Brady (one free) and M Lyng (0-3 each), M Argue (0-2), G McKiernan, R Maloney-Derham, D Givney, J Hayes and E Keating (0-1 each).
Scorers for Westmeath: J Heslin (0-4, 0-3f), J Gilligan (1-0), C McCormack (0-3), G Egan, P Sharry (one free, one 45) and Dessie Dolan (0-2 each), K Martin (0-1).
CAVAN: C Gilsenan; J McLoughlin, K Brady, R Dunne; J Hayes, J McEnroe, R Maloney-Derham; D O’Reilly, G McKiernan; M Argue, M Lyng, N McDermott; M Reilly, D Givney, J Brady.
Subs: E Keating (0-1) for Givney (52), T Corr for O’Reilly (60), C Mackey for Lyng (63), A Clarke for McDermott (72), M McKeever for K Brady (73, b/c).
WESTMEATH: S Gallagher; Damian Dolan, J Gilligan, K Maguire; J Dolan, K Gavin, P Sharry; D Duffy, G Egan; K Martin, J Heslin, L Smyth; A Burke, C McCormack, Dessie Dolan.
Subs: A Coffey for Burke (39), R Foley for Smyth (47), D Corroon for Duffy (59), D Glennon for Gavin (61).
Referee: P Hughes (Armagh).