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Ballina reclaim their crown

THE DYNAMIC DUO Ballina Stephenites’ captain Colm Leonard (left) and club captain James Devenney lift the Moclair Cup together. It was Ballina’s 36th Mayo SFC win. Pic: Sportsfile

Ballina reclaim their crown

Ballina             3-6
Charlestown    0-13

Mike Finnerty

NOBODY does tradition quite like Ballina Stephenites, and as James Devenney and Colm Leonard raised the Moclair Cup together last Sunday evening, normal service had been resumed.
In winning their 36th county senior football championship, Ballina proved beyond all reasonable doubt that they are the masters of winning finals. They fell five points behind but never lost their composure. They struck three goals in the space of seven minutes to take the initiative. And they went ahead and stayed there.
The likes of Kenny Golden, Brian Ruane, Ronan McGarrity, Pat Harte and the Bradys know how to win big matches. It’s what they have always done.
Charlestown played their part in a cracking county final. As promised, they played with pace, abandon and style and some of their football in the first half, in particular, deserved more than ifs, buts and maybes.
But the concession of three goals was always likely to cost them dearly, especially when they failed to hit the net themselves. 
Charlestown were at their scintillating best early on, spraying the ball around, mixing an incisive short game with an accurate long ball, and forging a commanding five point lead.
By the 27th minute, Charlestown were 0-7 to 0-2 up. Their half-back line was proving to be a springboard, David Tiernan was setting the tone at midfield, and their attack was lively and threatening.
A string of excellent points from play from Ollie Conway, Richard Haran, Martin Mulvaney, Tom Parsons and Tony Mulligan were supplemented by a couple of frees from Paul Mulligan and there looked to be only one team in it.
Where Charlestown were confident and assured, Ballina were uncertain. They went 19 minutes without a score, were on the backfoot at midfield, and their attack looked one-dimensional.
In hindsight, relief came from an unlikely source as referee Martin Murphy yellow-carded David Tiernan for an off-the-ball incident with Ronan McGarrity. Moments later, Tiernan fouled McGarrity again but escaped with only a verbal warning. He was dangerously close to being sent off and Charlestown’s management decided to substitute their captain as a consequence.
In the seven minutes Tiernan was off the pitch, Ballina nailed two vital points, one from Ger Brady and the other from David. It meant that only three points separated the teams at the break — 0-7 to 0-4.
The trend of the match turned irrevocably during the third quarter as Ballina opened up the Charlestown defence on three occasions to effectively win the game.
Central to their revival was the pace and athleticism of the outstanding Pat Harte, and the unfashionable work and hard yards covered by man of the match, Paul McGarry.
Ger Brady also used all his power and pace to good effect while David Brady turned in another eye-catching display at full-forward, making two goals and taking one himself.
The first of those goals in the 37th minute was a defining moment in the game; Paul McGarry and David Brady combining to put Ger Brady through, and he finished in style past an exposed John Casey.
Although ‘Ginger’ Tiernan had been brought back on at half-time, Ballina had taken control at midfield and they never relinquished that dominance.
Their first goal hauled them level (1-5 to 0-8) and the second, in the 42nd minute, was a hammer-blow to Charlestown’s title ambitions.
Again, McGarry was a key figure in the build-up and when Liam Brady floated an inviting crossfield ball into the square, David arrived to palm it to the net from point-blank range.
Charlestown were stunned. Ballina weren’t finished. Barely two minutes later Charlestown’s porous defence was sliced open again as David and Liam Brady linked up to put Stephen Hughes through. The impish forward lashed the ball past John Casey and the die was cast.
When the dust settled, Ballina had turned a three-point deficit into a five-point lead. They had the quality and tradition to protect that advantage and nothing less than a Charlestown goal would do.
Only once in a frantic closing quarter did David Clarke look like being beaten and on that occasion, in the 47th minute, Tony Mulligan’s shot struck the post.
By and large, Mulligan was well shackled by Martin Wynne and without their full-forward firing, Charlestown had to look elsewhere for scores.
Paul Mulligan had a flawless day from frees and landed three down the home stretch to keep the pressure on while David Tiernan smacked over a long-range score to keep the game alive.
That Tiernan point left just two between the teams on 52 minutes but Ger Brady swung over a beautiful point (Ballina’s only score of the final twenty minutes) in response to remind us of the hierarchy.
There were a couple of late half-chances of Charlestown scores late on but nothing concrete. Kenny Golden, Enda Devenney and Colm Leonard shut up shop defiantly and repelled countless raids while the likes of Ronan McGarrity, Pat Harte and Ger Brady were still ferrying ball downfield at pace in the dying moments.
The final whistle confirmed Ballina’s status as the most successful club in the county and reminded us all that form may be temporary but class remains permanent.