WESTMEATH’S Leinster club SFC hoodoo was broken in dramatic circumstances by substitute Conor Cosgrove’s injury-time winning free in Tullamore yesterday.
Garrycastle’s joyous supporters flooded onto the O’Connor Park turf after Syl Doyle blew the whistle almost immediately after Cosgrove’s 35m kick sailed over to make up for their 2009 final defeat to Portlaoise.
It was only the side’s third score of the second half, bridging a 23-minute gap to their previous score, Gary Dolan’s fisted goal.
But that hardly mattered after an absorbing if niggly affair which saw Doyle brandish 11 yellow cards and St Brigid’s haul back an eight-point deficit to level the game in the first minute of injury time.
Another replacement, Gavin McIntyre, was responsible for that score which appeared to suggest the Dublin champions were about to complete their latest comeback.
But even though Doyle had signalled at least one minute of injury-time, there was still time for Cosgrove’s free, which was awarded after substitute Odhran McCann was deemed to have fouled Mark McCallon as he kicked the ball in Dessie Dolan’s direction.
That meant the free was given where the ball landed and Cosgrove did the rest, successfully pointing into goals which had offered up just 1-3 of the 1-19 scored in the game.
Leading 1-7 to 0-2 with just over 20 minutes to go following Gary Dolan’s goal when he bettered Shane Supple to a James Duignan kick towards the edge of the square, extra time would have been an unsatisfying result for Garrycastle.
Yet they made life difficult for themselves by allowing St Brigid’s, or Paddy Andrews to be precise, enough latitude to get back into the contest.
Of their eight points without reply, five came in the space of as many minutes, Andrews grabbing four of them.
The first of those in the 46th minute was a free won by himself while the next three came from play as the previously unflappable Garrycastle captain John Gaffey was turned in and out by the player likely to reappear in Pat Gilroy’s plans next season.
John O’Loughlin’s second point in the 51st minute narrowed the difference to a single score before McIntyre appeared on the right wing to take a pass from Andrews and curl over the equaliser.
The momentum had been theirs but then Cosgrove struck to create a bit of history for club and county.
For the likes of Dessie Dolan, who had scored the last of his five points with a sublime punt from distance in the 35th minute, it was sweet relief after coming up short on their five previous occasions in Leinster.
After the game, he described it the win as “my best sporting moment, better than Westmeath’s Leinster title in 2004, and you could understand. This was a game they thought they had won only to lose their lead and then regain it at the death.”
Garrycastle’s start was truly blistering and Dolan was the headline act, following up a first minute free with three from play.
Ken Darcy answered that early free with one of his own but it turned out to be his side’s first and last score of the opening 30 minutes as the Westmeath men shell-shocked their opponents with incisive foot-passing and excellent cover in defence.
It was Dolan’s name who lit up the scoreboard those first four occasions for Garrycastle but the quality of delivery into him was just as impressive as his movement away from marker Graham Norton. By the time he had registered his fourth score, Martin Cahill had been assigned to curb the former All Star’s influence.
His first from play had seen him collect a ball from his brother Gary and turn Norton to flick a shot between the posts. His second came from a Doran Harte pass and his third after Duignan gave him the ball from a quickly-taken free.
Garrycastle’s fifth score could have been indirectly credited to Dolan who had distracted the St Brigid’s defence so convincingly nobody spotted Karl Henson advancing forward before a free.
Duignan did, though, and in the space of a minute had supplied two team-mates for scores with rapid thinking. Gary Dolan made up for palming a ball wide after beating Supple in the air with another point when he dummied inside Sean Murray.
Patrick Mulvihill also had a goal chance which would have extended Garrycastle’s lead to eight.
At the other end, St Brigids’ finishing was poor, Mark Cahill and Darcy missing relatively easy frees although the latter appeared to be foot-blocked when he struck for goal in the 24th minute.
Still, Garrycastle were good value for their 0-6 to 0-1 lead at the break. But their one-point advantage at the end was priceless.
Scorers for Garrycastle: D Dolan 0-5 (1f), G Dolan 1-1, K Henson, C Cosgrove (f) 0-1 each.
Scorers for St Brigid’s: P Andrews 0-5 (1f), K Darcy 0-2 (f), J O’Loughlin 0-2, G McIntyre 0-1.
Subs for Garrycastle: A Fox for McHugh (44), A Browne for Duignan (51), C Cosgrove for Mulvihill (54), A Daly for McGowan (55).
Subs for St Brigid’s: G McIntyre for Mark Cahill (42), L McCarthy for Ryan (47), O McCann for Mullins (60).
Referee: Syl Doyle (Wexford).
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