Leinster champions Garrycastle delivered one of the most intelligent performances of the season and it nearly delivered the Andy Merrigan Cup. Emmet Ryan analyses how the Westmeath side forced Crossmaglen Rangers out of their comfort zone and never really let them back in.
Exceptional game plan
Garrycastle have proved one thing throughout this campaign. They can adapt to anyone. They forced Brigid’s of Dublin’s defenders wide, they didn’t allow Brigid’s of Kiltoom to work the middle for developing attacks, and today they neutered Crossmaglen’s attacking swarm.
The Westmeath side took a huge risk by playing a high defensive line, looking to force Crossmaglen into rushing their attacks. Given the Ulster champions tend to play at speed this could be deemed foolhardy. The gamble however proved a work of genius. Crossmaglen’s pace is designed to cause chaos, Garrycastle pre-empted this by bringing the panic to their opponents. This forced Crossmaglen’s forwards to create a lot more from scratch, a situation they have been far from used to this season.
There was one other hugely important decision which could initially have seemed excessively risky. The half forwards stayed close to midfield while the full forwards pressed high to be effectively disconnected from the rest of the attack. Again there was a method to the madness. Crossmaglen’s opponents have all struggled to match the Armagh side for chances. Garrycastle effectively surrendered this in the hope of creating more high quality chances near goal.
In the preview I said Garrycastle would need to be particularly accurate and they didn’t disappoint. The Leinster champions had only two efforts all day where the decision to shoot was questionable, and barely a handful of wides in total. They were close to the model of efficiency going forward. In a shock to no-one, Dessie Dolan was once again the focal point. In the opening 3 minutes Dolan scored one point and created another. Much like the Leinster Final, Dolan was able to get open and score from play early. Paul Dillon was largely relied on to play provider, with Seanie O’Donoghue boxed out of attack. Dillon found Dolan with a long pass on 10 minutes, Dolan advanced, paused, and scored from favourable position.
O’Donoghue was mostly a non-factor in attack save for one big moment. His long sideline ball on 21 minutes broke to Patrick Mulvihill and his goal ensured Garrycastle went in with a 4 point lead at the break. This was not type of accurate distance pass O’Donoghue has used to great effect in this campaign but he wasn’t getting much chance to deliver long balls.
Crossmaglen win midfield
Most of everything was going wrong for the Ulster champions and the problems began and ended in their distribution. Hurried and inaccurate passing prevented attacks from flowing as well as enabling counters from Garrycastle in the first 40 minutes. As mentioned above, Garrycastle twigged that dropping deep wouldn’t work so by forcing Crossmaglen into decisions early it forced mistakes and created a sense of panic. The machine was not in tune.
It was not for want of possession. Crossmaglen simply owned the battle in the middle third. The key to the fightback was turning off the faucet for the Leinster champions. Crossmaglen’s passing going forward never reached the standard we have become used to but they flat out stopped Garrycastle from entering their territory for most of the last 20 minutes. Between the 42nd and 56th minute Crossmaglen out-scored the Westmeath side 0-7 to 0-2 as they looked to suffocate Garrycastle.
Clarke’s creativity on display
Although he missed a couple of goal chances from tight angles, Jamie Clarke was by far and away Crossmaglen’s most effective attacker. Clarke played Tony Kernan in over the top on 12 minutes for a one-on-one with Cathal Mullin but the Garrycastle keep just beat Kernan to the ball. Then on 33 minutes he saved an overhit Oisin McConville pass from going wide before playing the ball in to a wide open Johnny Hanratty who wasted a great scoring chance. Clarke would get 0-3 from play and his creative work was not wholly wasted. Clarke won a free in front of the posts on 36 minutes, which McConville converted, and created points for Aaron Kernan (42 minutes)and David McKenna (56 minutes).
This was not Crossmaglen’s best day at the office by a long shot. Even after they got back into the game on the scoreboard, they never played the game we had seen them use to such great effect this season. They finished the game with four straight wides. Two of these, by McConville and Tony Kernan, were horribly rushed efforts that should have been developed further. Garrycastle got inside Crossmaglen’s head and never left.
The Leinster champions were unfavoured to win this game going into it and, much like the provincial final, they played the game needed to give them a shot at the death. Their total failure in midfield is however a worry. There is no easy fix when up against an opponent that has clear athletic superiority in this department. Likewise there’s not a lot they can do about Crossmaglen’s massive bench advantage. I’ll address this issue further in the preview of the replay but it’s going to be tough to draw up a game plan good enough to better today’s result.
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Programming note: This was supposed to be the last club game this column covered but then they had to go and draw it. We will have a preview of the replay up. I’ll announce when it will be live via Twitter during the week. Before that we’ll have analysis of Cork vs. Kerry in the Football League up on Monday.