Garrycastle’s dream season continued with victory in the Athlone derby securing the Leinster champions a place in Croke Park on St Patrick’s day. Emmet Ryan breaks down the action from Saturday’s All Ireland Club Football semi final with St Brigid’s at Pearse Park.
A clash of strengths
The opening period saw both teams record seven scores, albeit with one major for St Brigid’s, but through rather different attacking approaches. Garrycastle were on on top territorially but their build-up play in attack was disjointed and forwards largely had to carve out scoring opportunities individually. Such was Garrycastle’s success in the middle third, there was no shortage of possession for attackers to work with. Quality opportunities were lacking however and better link-up play would have seen a much gaudier tally recorded by the interval.
By contrast support play was at the heart of everything St Brigid’s did. Though they struggled to move the ball past midfield, when the Connacht champions succeeded in getting the ball forward their attack showed some excellent link-up play. As with previous games, Garrycastle’s last line suffered from being too disconnected from the rest of the line-up. This enabled the quick-passing St Brigid’s attack to create high-percentage opportunities. From 8 scoring chances the Kiltoom outfit yielded 1-6 in the opening period. Even the goal, which came from the spot, was a result of Brigid’s passing their way at speed into a threatening position.
Seanie O’Donoghue’s passing
The long and largely low passes by Seanie O’Donoghue proved a telling factor in this game. O’Donoghue was deployed in a holding role in midfield, not a pure sweeper as much as deep lying midfielder. He impressed in a similar role against Mullingar Shamrocks but his impact in attack was more directly felt on the scoreboard on Saturday.
Right from the opening throw-in, O’Donoghue was delivering exquisite long passes. Over the course of 60 minutes he delivered 5 long balls resulting in 3 points directly from his passes, the fourth reached its target but play broke down afterwards, and the fifth resulted in a free in scoring range for Garrycastle that Dessie Dolan put wide. Considering O’Donoghue’s chief role was in defence this was a substantial contribution to the final tally.
The in-game management was somewhat wanting on both sides. In a close battle it’s easy to be cautious about making changes but this mindset sets a limit on what a team can achieve. While there were waves of substitutions on both teams, neither made changes aimed at changing the flow of the game. This was particularly odd given the radical switches made by Garrycastle in previous games and by St Brigid’s in the Connacht Final. St Brigid’s in particular would have benefited from working the ball through the middle third more. Their forwards had the better of the Garrycastle defence in the opening period but were stunted by a lack of supply.
Garrycastle took the ascendancy with a well worked James Dolan goal. After Patrick Mulvihill walked through the defence he passed to Dolan who cut inside to put the Westmeath side on top. Another slick St Brigid’s passing move nearly resulted in them claiming a second major on 44 minutes but it would be too easy to blame this loss on a sole missed chance. In a game low on tactical endeavour, it was Garrycastle who proved the more multi-faceted attacking outfit. That variety in attack, including one delightful Dessie Dolan pass where he set up his brother Garry for a goal chance on 56 minutes, was enough to get Garrycastle over the finish line. A tougher test awaits on St Patrick’s Day but at this stage the Leinster champions are playing with house money.
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Programming note: The next scheduled Tactics not Passion column is for the Donegal vs. Cork game in the National League. The All Ireland Club Football Final preview will be in the week leading up to St Patrick’s Day.