Ballagh’ reach final frontier
IT was an exhibition unlike anything they produced in the Mayo championship, a moment when Ballaghaderreen finally reached their potential.
In thirty minutes of inspirational football they unleashed the collective power that for so long has been struggling to break free from their own individual inhibitions.
This was the Ballaghaderreen we always expected to see, but somehow never fully let themselves loose, even in the County Final against Ballintubber.
This time it all came together in glinting flashes of power that turned a finely-balanced game at half-time into a rare one-sided show of their collection of disparate talents.
You would not have banked on such a change of fortunes in the first fifteen minutes as Curry took the game to the Mayo men and a couple of their forwards, especially Adrian Marren and David Maye, threatened to run riot.
Maye, playing at full-forward and winning most of the possession, had tucked over a point and, in the 8th minute, ballooned the net with a brilliant goal.
Curry were moving the ball well, using the wings to good effect, running hard and obviously pleasing to the eyes of Sligo manager, Kevin Walsh, watching from the stand.
But the first clever moves of the match were made on the sideline when the Ballagh’ mentors moved Keith Rogers to full-back in a switch with his brother Philip, and delegated to David Drake the task of policing Sligo’s top forward Adrian Marren.
The flow to the Curry forwards was suddenly reduced. Barry Kelly and James Kilcullen assumed command in the middle of the field and Barry Regan led the forward line with customary confidence.
But Curry were still two points ahead at the interval, and the match seemed destined to go down to the wire.
What happened after the break was quite extraordinary. as if inspired by some event in the dressing room, Ballagh’ broke from their slips at the throw-in, and suddenly Curry were engulfed.
From the right wing Barry Kelly swung over a point. then he won a Curry kick-out, stormed through the centre, and laid on a perfect pass for James Kilcullen to rattle into the net.
A flurry of points followed in succession, six altogether before Curry had their first of the second half, four of them splendid efforts from the in-form Barry Regan.
Long before that Curry’s challenge had petered out. Kilcullen, my man of the match, falling back at times to help out in defence, as well as lending support up front steered the game strategically from midfield while the industry of his partner Barry Kelly was quite phenomenal throughout the hour.
Back in defence, Stephen Drake was once again the commanding figure, as impressive as his performance in the county final, and Keith Rogers and David Drake effectively blotted out the two forwards on whom Curry had pinned their hopes . . . David Maye and Adrian Marren.
By the time the Sligo champions lost centre-back John Feeney , sent off for a heavy tackle on Stephen Drake, early in the second half they had fallen behind by five points.
Feeney’s dismissal added to their woe, and although Cathal Brennan and Jason Marren tried valiantly for a rejuvenating goal, Ballagh’ did not relax or make any slip that might encourage the Sligo men.
Ballagh’ now meet Roscommon champions, St Brigid’s, a unique pairing, in the Connacht Final at McHale Park on Sunday week.
A pair of champions from the same county tussling for Connacht honours ought to make it a match to remember.
Old rivals serve up thrilling U-21 draw
EIGHTY minutes of sweat and toil could not separate them. So these giants of the western front must meet again. A last minute point by Mayo star Cillian O’Connor saved Ballintubber in normal time, and a last-gasp equaliser by the Aidan Walsh denied them in extra-time.
It was that sort of topsy-turvy under 21 ‘A’ final between Castlebar Mitchels and Ballintubber. Neither side could put the other away. And neither side deserved to lose.
In the worst of conditions they slogged it out as the game see-sawed on a knife edge, and cramped muscles reflected the determination of each not to cede an inch. In the end, and barely able to stand up, neither did.
The hectic finish to normal time, and to the twenty extra minutes, revealed just how evenly balanced those under 21s of castlebar and ballintubber really are and the almost primal passion their encounters awaken.
Castlebar were seeking their third county title in a row and out to demonstrate that whatever glitch befalls them in senior tussles with their near-neighbours is confined to that grade.
For much of this final the county town men won most of the possession, but budding moves were often stamped out by the fervour of Ballintubber’s tackling . . . and by the tardiness of their own delivery.
And that’s where the quality of the football fell below what one expects from this grade. true, the game overflowed with heart and spirit but the finer points were lost in the intensity of the exchanges, spoiled by an excess of dragging and pulling and soloing and poor passing.
Flashes of excellence from the Abbeymen’s backline, together with forwards, Diarmuid O’Connor and Conor Finnerty, did illuminate some passages of the play.
Performances by the Mitchels’ Patrick Durcan and Danny Kirby, and the accuracy of Aidan Walsh also hit high notes. But it was the swingboat nature of the scores that held most of the interest.
Despite conceding a goal in the 30th minute, Castlebar led by a point at the interval and Kirby seemed to have clinched it for them before Young Footballer of the Year, Cillian O’Connor, not long on as a sub, sent the game into extra time from a free.
And when the mayo star cracked the ball into the net from the penalty spot after Danny Geraghty was fouled in the box during the second half of extra-time, Ballintubber had, it seemed, stolen the honours.
With ice-cool nerves, however, Aidan Walsh took it to a replay from a free and no one is putting his shirt on a winner next time out.
Charlestown reign again
WHEN Charlestown lost their senior status last season, a long period in the shadows seemed to have stretched out before them. Their old indomitables, who had guided the club to the peak of senior success in Mayo, would find it hard to rediscover the urge to fight-back through the uncertainties of the intermediate championship, it was felt.
The Higgins and Caseys and Caffreys and the Conways, who had set the standards, would have been forgiven if they decided to call it a day . . . to leave it to a younger generation to restore the lustre.
But the hurt of the drop rejuvenated the old warriors. Pride of place was their chief motivation. They had gone down with the team. Now they would fight to haul it back, to re-establish the club’s rightful place at senior level.
Not only did the well-ripened stars rediscover their old spirit, but an old one rose from the ashes to help out. emerging from a well-earned retirement, David Tiernan embodied the spirit of the whole club.
And in pinning down a brilliant point in the Connacht Intermediate Final at Markievicz Park on Saturday to help clinch the title, ‘Ginger’ added his stone to the monument of the club’s achievement.
A connacht intermediate title will not only have erased the disappointment of Charlestown’s drop last season but will also stand out as an example of what can be achieved when minds coalesce and hearts are.
Just a thought …
The season fades, but football continues to flower. the performances of Ballaghaderreen and Charlestown over the weekend have shortened the winter for us… and we look forward to a unique Connacht Senior Final.