Dolan dominates early
Dessie Dolan’s attacking threat was always going to be vital to Garrycastle and he found ample room to shoot from the left flank early. Dolan scored a free from 45 metres out in the opening minute and create space for long range scores from play from the same side on 4 and 9 minutes while having another opportunity in space go wide on 12 minutes. Brigid’s adapted by rotating defenders, with Ken Kilmurray eventually dropping back from attack to support in crowding out Dolan. With Dolan under more pressure, the Westmeath champions were forced to move the ball laterally. While this slowed the attack somewhat, Garrycastle were able to adapt and find alternative scoring options.
The early success helped Garrycastle evolve from a counter-attacking strategy to one that saw them dictate the tempo in the first half. By controlling possession, the pressure on the rest of their forwards was reduced. After a stuttering start, the extra time to work the ball helped Gary Dolan open his account on 20 minutes.
Brigid’s fail to adapt to heavy ground
After Ken Darcy put Brigid’s on the board on 3 minutes, they failed to score for another 30. This was as much due to their failure to create chances as it was Brigid’s poor finishing. Brigid’s tried to play a patient game to create high percentage chances but their short passing approach was ill-suited to the heavy ground. Brigid’s were forced to move the ball wide, a change from their preferred approach of keeping the field tight, and Garrycastle had ample time to get men in position to cover back.
The decision to place Sean Murray in a true 6 role, aiding the attack by pressing forward, should have been a boost but the Dublin champions’ approach to moving the ball meant he was a non-factor in attack. With play slowed Garrycastle were able to contain create a wall from 35 metres out, limiting Brigid’s to moving the ball across the field in search of an opening. They were few and far between as the Westmeath champions covered excellently. Instead of looking inspired, the Russell Park outfit’s front line grew frustrated as the half wore on, resulting in hasty inaccurate finishing.
Goal gives Garrycastle breathing room
By this stage of the campaign St Brigid’s slow start is a surprise to no-one and Garrycastle recognised the need to press in attack after the break before the inevitable fightback. Seanie O’Donoghue burrowed into the Brigid’s semi-circle before passing back to Dessie Dolan who recorded his fifth, and final, score of the day on 35 minutes to put Garrycastle 0-7 to 0-2 up. The decisive moment of the match would come four minutes later.
Dessie Dolan started the move on the left side, where else, as he found James Duignan in space around the 21. Duignan advanced towards goal before lobbing in to Gary Dolan who fisted past Shane Supple to put 8 points between the sides. This column has long criticised the myth of a killer blow in Gaelic Football but this major gave the Westmeath champions breathing room at a vital time in the game. With the benches about to come into play, an area where Brigid’s held a significant depth advantage, Garrycastle needed to set the Dublin champions an arduous task.
Switch in attack aids Brigid’s rally
Having failed to get the job done by playing slow and steady, Brigid’s changed the way they moved the ball and it nearly won them the match. With scores needed fast, long passes were used more. Brigid’s also brought play inside off the wings. The narrower approach and quicker distribution saw them record 8 points in a row, 7 of which came during a furious flurry between 41 and 51 minutes. Paddy Andrews led the charge with 4 points in 5 minutes, benefiting from the much smoother transitions being made by Brigid’s going forward.
Defensively Brigid’s played much tighter, forcing Garrycastle wide and creating turnovers. Kilmurray’s role in crowding out attackers was crucial as Brigid’s kept Garrycastle scoreless for 22 minutes, by far their most barren stretch this afternoon.
The result may have come down to an injury time free but it was the early gains by Garrycastle that won this game. Brigid’s fell into the biggest hole they have faced all season and left themselves with far too much to do in the closing stages. Despite drawing level with a Gavin McIntyre score on the hour mark, the Russell Park outfit didn’t do enough to choke out their opponents.
Garrycastle’s success in frustrating Brigid’s was the tactical story of this game. The Dublin champions came out with a plan ill-suited to the conditions and Garrycastle exploited it well. Their accuracy, outside of Dessie Dolan, was far from top drawer but the Westmeath champions created enough high percentage chances to leave space between them and Brigid’s. Once squad depth came into play, Garrycastle had enough in the tank to stay in with a fighting chance.
Brigid’s have been to the well several times this season and come out on top in tight finishes. Never before had they been faced with such a mountain to climb once they entered the late phase of the game. This time around they need nothing short of perfectly clean defence from the moment their comeback started. Brigid’s came awfully close but left Garrycastle with enough of an opportunity to squeak out a win.
For the newly crowned Leinster champions, the first team from Westmeath ever to claim the crown, everything from this point is gravy. They are in the more favourable side of the All-Ireland draw, with an Athlone derby against St Brigid’s of Kiltoom awaiting them for a shot at a trip to Croke Park on St Patrick’s day. We’ll have a full preview of that game and the semi-final between Crossmaglen Rangers and Dr Crokes after Christmas.
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Programming note: We’ll have a special Tactics not Passion up on Friday analysing the Donegal Senior Football team. That will be the last column before Christmas.