Having been outplayed in the first half of Sunday’s replay, Garrycastle held Mullingar Shamrocks scoreless after the break to secure their third consecutive Westmeath Senior Football title. Emmet Ryan was in Mullingar to analyse the encounter.
The way both sides lined out was staggeringly close to the 3-3-2-3-3 from which traditional GAA positions derive their names. Garrycastle made one wrinkle with their front three, playing two full forwards in the middle and a third dropping back between them and the half-forward line. Aside from the man-marking adjustments to meet that tweak, Mullingar Shamrocks offered no massive changes from the norm. Their full forward line rotated but still kept largely true to the three defined positions.
Notably however the midfielders on both sides played particularly wide roles in the opening period. This changed in the second half as Garrycastle moved their wing forwards and midfielders in closer to the centre of the park.
Shooting defying conditions
The weather on Sunday was exactly what one would expect from the midlands in late October. The rain began falling approximately an hour before throw-in and didn’t let up until well after the final whistle. Indeed the downfall was at its heaviest during the opening period, not that you would know it if you were watching Mullingar’s attack.
Michéal Curley opened the scoring on 3 minutes with a point from play on the 45 straight in front of the posts. As would be the case for several of Shamrocks’ scores, Curley was in open space and able to pop over. The first of Aonghus Smyth’s two points, in the 13th minute, saw the converted wing forward left in open space after Garrycastle’s John Gaffey dropped back to cover a free. Donal O’Donoghue took the free quickly and Smyth had no difficulty converting from long range.
There were also some fine scores from difficult angles. The highlight coming on 26 minutes when Daragh Daly finished off a four-man passing move to score from the right sideline around 30 metres out. That capped off a first half display that saw Mullingar record 9 points with just 1 wide.
No connection between Garrycastle’s lines
Garrycastle’s attack was far from impotent in the opening period but creating chances proved difficult. The game started well for the defending champions as Dessie Dolan’s sideline ball found James Duignan outside the 21. His shot caught Mullingar goalkeeper Philip Shaw out of position and gave Garrycastle the lead after 4 minutes. Dolan added a point from play a minute later but only two more points, from just three chances, were managed for the rest of the half.
The biggest problem was how deep lying the Garrycastle full back line were compared to the rest of the team. The relatively standard formations created plenty of room for both sides but it was Shamrocks that capitalised in the opening 30 minutes. With acres to create moves, the home town team ensured play stayed largely in the Garrycastle half over the course of the opening period. With their defence under pressure, the defending champions had no way of providing a steady supply to Dolan and company and opportunities were few and far between.
Narrowing the field and winning with depth
Dolan was the man of the match over 60 minutes but there was no questioning the star of the second half. Seanie O’Donoghue made a vital contribution in midfield, dictating the direction of the game for the final 30 minutes. O’Donoghue’s impact, along with the efforts of subsitutes Garry Dolan, Eoin Monaghan, and Alan Daly, narrowed the focus of the action.
Garrycastle knew they had a depth advantage going into this game, having won the county Junior Football Championship a fortnight earlier. Naming 40 players in their squad may have proved excessive but the impact their stronger bench made changed the course of the game. With fresh bodies in attack, Garrycastle pulled their wing forwards in from the sidelines and began playing a more pressing game. This enabled the full backs to link up better with the rest of the defence. With the middle crowded and the line higher, Mullingar’s attacks, what few there were, were easily stifled.
It took until the 53rd minute for Garrycastle to re-take the lead but once they did, it was clearly theirs for good.
Shamrocks lose control
The deterioration of conditions certainly didn’t aid Mullingar Shamrocks in the second half but it can’t be blamed for their total collapse. Losing Daly to injury on 43 minutes hurt them but his absence only accelerated a free-fall that was already under way.
The attack lost all sense of shape and focus in the second half. Chances proved hard to come by and frustration quickly turned to panic. Mental errors in attack proved just as big a problem as the reduction in possession. For most of the period the forwards, who lest we forget dominated the opening 30 minutes, were dragged across the park. When they finally had time to create in the closing stages, the decision making was woeful. The ball was lumped aimlessly towards goal with no attention paid to finding a man, never mind one in a favourable position.
While the decision to go short rather than lob the ball in from their last attack will live long in the memory, an earlier incident better defined Mullingar’s failings once they crossed midfield. A minute from time, with the pitch well and truly soaked, Curley opted to hop rather than solo only to see the ball stop dead in the mud and Garrycastle quickly took possession.
The defence was far from innocent and there was no greater error at the back than Shaw’s bumbling effort on 54 minutes. Having seen a free in defence passed back to him, Shaw duly dropped the ball to the ground, recovered, and eventually gave up a free on the 13 metre line which Dolan duly converted.
The quality of Football on display in spite of the conditions can’t be over-emphasised. While Mullingar collapsed after the break, the shooting performances from both teams was impressive. Creating chances, or rather a near total failure in doing so, cost Shamrocks in the second half but they were nearly saved by the elements.
Scores and scoring attempts occurred at a much slower clip in the second half, unsurprising given the way the pitch was breaking up. Ultimately it was Garrycastle’s ability to use their depth to create a more pressing game, one that narrowed the field, that won out.
Shamrocks will be disappointed with their second half display, one which lacked any coordination whatsoever and seemed reliant on the rain saving their hides. Garrycastle will know a stronger defensive showing is necessary in Leinster but for now their attacking success and depth in bench play will be a boost to their confidence.
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