Half an hour or so after full-time in Mullingar, a round of applause that seemed to go on and on rose up from the losing Garrycastle dressing room.
It can only have been for one man, Dessie Dolan, as the Westmeath great pulled the shutters down on a 22-year senior club career in bittersweet circumstances.
A winner by nature, the defeat will naturally chew on Dolan’s nerve ends as the 2011 provincial winners came up well short of joining Éire Óg in the December 8 final.
But he went out in style with a terrific display of creative play and score-poaching at TEG Cusack Park that yielded seven points.
All but one of those came from frees though what a point that was, an extrovert dummy sold to two Ballyboden defenders who crashed into each other and a kick dispatched from distance that split the posts.
For the record, the 40-year-old’s last score in Gaelic football — he reckons there’ll be no drop down to junior football — came, fittingly, in the 40th minute from a free. He engineered the score himself, noticing that his man was getting advice from a coach on the left wing and sprinting across the pitch unmarked to begin a move that ended with his cousin, James Dolan, winning the free that Dessie converted.
That score actually brought the margin down to a manageable five points after a terrible start for Garrycastle and having trailed by eight at half-time — 1-10 to 0-5 — it gave the Athlone outfit some light to move towards. But there was to be no fightback or extra outing for the Lake County icon.
Instead, it was the efficient and physically powerful Dublin champions that finished the stronger, reeling off goals from Colm Basquel and sub James Holland to seal the win.
Still, even winning manager Anthony Rainbow was purring with praise afterwards for Dolan, perhaps the greatest Westmeath player ever.
“He still has it, you could see it,” said Rainbow, the former Kildare defender who came up against Dolan plenty of times in battle. “Dessie could play on for another two or three years, no problem.”
Joint Garrycastle manager John Keane won an All-Star with Dolan in 2004 when Westmeath made their Leinster breakthrough and hailed a phenomenal talent.
“Even out there today at 40 years of age, he’s hitting frees, scoring from play, leading the way, directing traffic, everything,” said Keane. “He’s just an incredible man for this club.
“For me, for the last two years being involved with them, it’s amazing to see the influence he has with the club and the respect he gets, deservedly so. He’s just phenomenal and I said it inside in the dressing room afterwards, any bit of success I ever had in my own career was with Des. I was just delighted that I was here and involved when he finished off.”
Ballyboden don’t do sentiment, however, and the 2015 Leinster winners went for the jugular from the off, running hard and clever lines and drawing blood immediately.
They reeled off 1-5 between the fourth and 12th minutes to open up a 1-5 to 0-1 lead. Already the game was nearly up for the hosts with the Basquel brothers, Colm and Ryan, tearing the Garrycastle defence to pieces.
The Ballyboden goal came in the sixth minute and was a beauty from Dublin defender Robbie McDaid whose surging runs upfield were constant and a highlight of the game.
He burst through the Garrycastle defence for ‘Boden’s opening goal, finishing superbly with his left foot and added a point later on.
Dolan won a free in the 14th minute, converted it and punched the air in an effort to encourage his colleagues.
But they couldn’t reach the pitch of Ballyboden’s play with Rainbow’s troops physically stronger, so impressive in attack and able to roll on subs like Michael Darragh Macauley — he didn’t start due to a niggling groin strain — and the evergreen Conal Keaney.
Ballyboden led 1-10 to 0-5 at half-time with All-Ireland U-20 finalist Ross McGarry lively and among their scorers.
Dolan did convert a series of frees after the restart but the closest Garrycastle got to the four-time Dublin champions was five points, 1-11 to 0-8.
McDaid and Darren O’Reilly responded with ‘Boden points before their second and third goals in the 54th and 57th minutes through Colm Basquel and Holland.
Basquel’s was a deflected effort though Holland’s was a thing of beauty, a roofed finish after a burst of pace and clever one-two with Sean Gibbons down the right.
Dublin hurler Keaney took over the free-taking duties late on and converted one to become his team’s eighth scorer on the day.
They’ll return to action on Sunday week to face Carlow’s Éire Óg in the final with a weight of expectation sure to be on their shoulders as second favourites for the All-Ireland behind Corofin.
“I know a lot of the Éire Óg guys from my time down managing Carlow, the likes of Sean Gannon, Benny Kavanagh, Eoghan Ruth, they’re inter-county footballers for the last 10 or 12 years,” said Rainbow. “They’re very experienced and we’re going to have a tough game on our hands.”
Éire Óg will believe they can pull it off though ‘Boden are on a terrific run, unbeaten in the league and championship this year.
“We played the league semi-final last Sunday, we don’t know when that final is going to be fixed for,” said Rainbow. “We’ve had one draw in the league and the rest wins. It’s a good record to have but we’re just taking it each game as it comes. It was the same after the Newtown Blues game in the Leinster championship, we just said our next game is the league semi-final against Lucan. We concentrated on that and it’s the same now, our next game is Éire Óg and we’re not going to be looking beyond that.”
Scorers for Ballyboden St Endas scorers: C Basquel (1-3, 2 frees); R McDaid (1-1); J Holland (1-0); R Basquel, R McGarry (0-3 each); A Flood (0-2); C Keaney (1 free), D O’Reilly (0-1 each).
Scorers for Garrycastle: D Dolan (0-7, 6 frees); G Heneghan (0-1f), E Monaghan, J Dolan, J Nugent, J Sheerin (0-1).
BALLYBODEN ST ENDA’S: D Gogan; B Dwan, S Clayton, K Kennedy; S Gibbons, R McDaid, B Bobbett; D McCabe, D O’Mahony; A Flood, C Basquel, D O’Reilly; R Basquel, W Egan, R McGarry.
Subs: MD Macauley for McCabe (43); C Keaney for Flood (45); T Hayes for Egan (50); J Holland for O’Mahony (55); C Murray for R Basquel (58); C O’Reilly for McGarry (60).
GARRYCASTLE: S Brennan; M McCallon, J Gaffey, J Donohue; D Harte, M Guiheen, G McCallon; J Barrett, J Sheerin; A Monaghan, J Dolan, M Monaghan; E Monaghan, A Gardiner, D Dolan.
Subs: J Nugent for E Monaghan (h/t); C Cosgrove for D Dolan, M Greene for A Monaghan (50); E Mulvihill for Donohue (55); G Heneghan for M Monaghan (57).
Ref: D Gough (Meath).