2005 County Final

The Downs 1-10 Garrycastle 0-10 - (09/10/2005)

Displaying the true grit associated with the club since its foundation, The Downs won their ninth Westmeath senior football title at Cusack Park on Sunday afternoon last with a thoroughly deserved three-point victory over reigning champions Garrycastle in a game which never reached particularly high standards, before an attendance in the region of 5,000.

Last year's champions were hot favourites to win their fourth title in five years and, indeed in some circles, were being spoken of as potential provincial champions. However, not for the first time in sport, chickens were counted before they were hatched and it will be the Black and Ambers who will represent Westmeath in the 2005/06 Leinster club championship, as they harbour ambitions to replicate their memorable run in this prestigious competition when they were the last Westmeath side to contest a Leinster final in 1973 against a great St Vincent's side from Dublin.

The winners' management duo of Ray Smyth and Tommy Kelly clearly had their homework done on their highly-vaunted opponents and the fact that Des Dolan was held scoreless from play (even if a number of his nine points from frees were as a result of being fouled himself) was a major factor in The Downs' success. The International Rules player (sportingly applauded in the post-match speeches by all spectators for his selection to tour Australia) was the subject of some rough treatment throughout. Indeed, persistent fouling in this regard by Sean Loughlin led to the corner back's dismissal in the 12th minute of the second half while, ten minutes later, a high challenge by John Smyth on the current All-Star was deemed to be accidental (a view not shared by, among others, Des' younger brother Gary, who was yellow-carded for an immediate lunge at Smyth). However, in the final analysis, The Downs made little of their numerical disadvantage and are worthy holders of the Flanagan Cup, regaining the trophy they last won in 2003.

The Downs lined out as selected, with the very unfortunate and ultra-consistent Noel Molloy again missing out on a county final through injury, while Robbie Fox replaced Adrian Hanley on the Garrycastle team, resulting in a number of positional changes in the forward line. Before the throw-in, a minute's silence was observed (though, sadly not by all present) in memory of the late Jack Lyster, a stalwart with St Mary's and Westmeath football teams in the 1950s.

Garrycastle had wind advantage in the first half when playing into the canal end, but it was The Downs who started the brighter and James Conroy took a Joe Corroon pass in the first ten seconds before being hauled to the ground, with Tommy Cleary converting the resulting 20-metre free from his hands in typically relaxed style. From the kickout, Gary Dolan flicked the ball to his brother Des who was duly fouled 30 metres from goal. Des Dolan tapped over the subsequent free from his hands. Greg Crowley then spurned a good opportunity for The Downs before his half back colleague Conor Carley was fouled and, when Garrycastle were further penalised for dissent, Tommy Cleary converted the 30-metre free. Again, Des Dolan cancelled this out with a fine free from 45 metres and the same player was just short with another free from slightly further out after nine minutes.

By the 12th minute, Garrycastle had shot three wides and the winners were then off target for the first time when Barry Conroy failed to convert a free from a very awkward angle. His brother James was causing untold problems for the Garrycastle defence with his direct running and when the full forward was fouled after a quarter of an hour's play, Tommy Cleary maintained his 100 per cent strike rate from the 20-metre free. Three minutes later, another foul on James Conroy resulted in a converted free by Cleary (this time from 35 metres). Cleary then turned provider, setting up James Conroy who kicked a great point on the run to put three points between the sides, with ten minutes of the first half remaining.

Three pointed frees by Des Dolan between the 22nd and 25th minutes levelled the game. The first came following a foul on Paul Dillon, the second when Dolan himself was fouled after making a great catch and the third when Sean Loughlin was yellow-carded for an off-the-ball foul. Des Dolan then had a huge free caught on the line before the game's turning point unfolded in the last minute of normal time. Garrycastle wing back Doran Harte appeared to many observers to have been fouled as he bore down on goal, but the referee penalised him for overcarrying. The Downs immediately worked the ball upfield and Tommy Cleary played a great through ball towards the Garrycastle goal, with Stephen Devine displaying great opportunism as he flicked the ball over the head of advancing goalkeeper Cathal Mullin and into the unguarded net. In the second minute of added time, Luke Folan and John Smyth (who was working tirelessly all over the pitch) combined to set up Tommy Cleary who finished over the bar in style. Alan McCormack then blew the half time whistle, with The Downs ahead by 1-6 to 0-5.

Garrycastle made two changes for the resumption of play, including the introduction of inter-county star Paddy Mulvihill but, while he undoubtedly added potency to the losers' attack, he clearly lacked match fitness following a recent appendix operation. Tommy Cleary opened the second half scoring with a fine free from 45 metres, after he had been fouled in the second minute. A long ball from Gary Dolan was then flicked goalwards by Paddy Mulvihill, but Ciaran McCormack easily collected the ball. Mulvihill then did very well to field David O'Shaughnessy's pass and, when he was fouled, Des Dolan tapped over the subsequent 15-metre free. The latter player then added another point from a 30-metre free after six minutes, to leave just a goal between the sides.

Brilliant play by James Conroy when he cut in from the right wing resulted in Tommy Cleary pointing in the eighth minute, but this was soon cancelled out by a Paddy Mulvihill point at the other end, following a great run by Justin McAteer. This point was the losers' only score from play over the hour, a testimony to a real off-day in their attack. Then came the dismissal of Sean Loughlin for a second yellow card, with his direct opponent Des Dolan seeing yellow, following the referee's consultation with his umpires. Steven Cleary was handed the unenviable job of marking Des Dolan, but he did very well in the time remaining. Des Dolan pointed a great 45-metre free after 16 minutes, before the energetic John Smyth superbly robbed Paul Dillon as the Garrycastle forward headed goalwards. Controversy raged in the 22nd minute when John Smyth upended Des Dolan, but the referee deemed the clash to be accidental. Gary Dolan proceeded to take out his own retaliation on Smyth, for which he was yellow-carded. Des Dolan required lengthy treatment before taking his place again, but he showed no ill-effects when pointing a 30-metre free in the 26th minute. The game, which had been surprisingly devoid of atmosphere in the first half, was now being played in a frenzy and James Conroy fisted a great point in the 27th minute, following a fine move initiated by Tommy Cleary. The incident involving John Smyth and Des Dolan was clearly in Seanie O'Donoghue's mind in the last minute of normal time when the centre half back went in hard and late on Smyth, earning himself a yellow card for his troubles. Two minutes into injury time, Doran Harte and Justin McAteer combined well and, when McAteer was fouled, Des Dolan pointed the close-range free. However, try as they might, the champions were unable to save their crown and when Alan McCormack blew up after five minutes added time, Cusack Park became a sea of black and amber as The Downs rejoiced in this unexpected success.

This was a very sweet victory for The Downs. Sean O'Leary enhanced his growing reputation with a tremendous display at full back and he was ably assisted by Steven Cleary and Conor Carley in defence. Brendan Murtagh foraged hard at midfield beside Joe Corroon, who regularly used his experience to great effect. John Smyth's workrate was phenomenal, while Tommy Cleary displayed his customary coolness from frees and open play. James Conroy must surely have laid down a marker for watching Westmeath manager Tomás Ó Flatharta with a great display of direct running, as well as chipping in with two precious points from play.

This defeat is a major setback for Garrycastle and ends their proud unbeaten record in senior finals. Tom McHugh and Doran Harte defended staunchly, but last year's county final hero, David O'Shaughnessy, never exerted antything like the same influence on proceedings. His midfield partner, Justin McAteer, had his moments but the losers' attack (not for the first time) were far too dependent on Des Dolan, who was subjected to very close scrutiny from start to finish. His brother Gary did his utmost to rouse his colleagues but has tendencies towards indiscipline, while Paddy Mulvihill lacked his normal sharpness due to his recent lay-off.

After the game, Séamus Ó Faoláin, chairman of the Westmeath County Board, presented the cup to The Downs' captain, Barry Conroy. In his acceptance speech, the triumphant skipper expressed his great pride in emulating his father Seamus who received the Flanagan Cup all of 25 years ago after The Downs' seventh senior championship success.

The Downs: Ciaran McCormack, Sean Loughlin, Sean O'Leary, Steven Cleary, Conor Carley, Darren Devine, Greg Crowley, Joe Corroon, Brendan Murtagh, Luke Folan, John Smyth, Barry Conroy (capt) (0-1, from a free), Tommy Cleary (0-7, 0-5 from frees), James Conroy (0-2), Stephen Devine (1-0). Subs: David O'Reilly (for Folan), Keith Shanley (for Smyth).

Garrycastle: Cathal Mullin, Tom McHugh, Karl Henson, Padraig Rattigan, Doran Harte, Seanie O'Donoghue, Enda Mulvihill, David O'Shaughnessy, Justin McAteer (capt), James Duignan, Gary Dolan, Robbie Fox, Alan Daly, Paul Dillon, Des Dolan (0-9, all from frees). Subs: Paddy Mulvihill (0-1) (for Daly), Noel Galvin (for Fox), Donal Ryan (for Dillon), Robbie Shine (for Duignan).

Referee: Alan McCormack (Kilbeggan Shamrocks).