NO arguments, no excuses, no regrets.
Ballaghaderreen walked off the field at McHale Park last Sunday with their heads held high, leaving St Brigid’s behind to celebrate their historic three-in-a-row of Connacht club championship titles.
Ballagh’ had fought the good fight and come off second best. After a year where they regained the Mayo championship, and were forced to manage without some of their most important players in the biggest games, there was no shame in that.
Each and every one of the eighteen Ballagh’ players that featured last Sunday had done their all for the cause, and raged against the St Brigid’s machine for the full hour. But ultimately there was nothing they could do to stop it.
The defending champions solved the problem that was Ballaghaderreen during the third quarter, transforming a one-point lead at half-time into a nine-point advantage in the space of seventeen sensational minutes.
When the hurricane blew out, the team that Kevin McStay and Liam McHale have been coaching for the last eleven months were home and hosed.
Their years of physical conditioning, their streetwise experience, their ability to battle and graft, and the individual talent of Peter Domican, the Dolans, Darragh Donnelly and the Kilbrides eventually wore Ballagh’ down.
And no amount of honest effort was able to compensate this time for the absence of the injured Andy Moran and David Kilcullen, and Andy Hanley, who was forced to depart for the USA due to work commitments a week earlier.
The damage was done during the third quarter when St Brigid’s went for Ballaghaderreen’s jugular as hard and as fast as they could.
They may have sensed that the Mayo champions had expended a lot of energy clawing their way back into contention before half-time, and a string of scores after the restart put Ballagh’ on the backfoot.
Darren Dolan, an abrasive and impressive substitute, got the ball rolling with a well-taken score and further points rained over from Ronan Stack, Frankie Dolan and Senan Kilbride before the game-breaking goal came in the 45th minute.
Ballagh’ were the architects of their own misfortune on this occasion; losing possession cheaply as they cleared their lines and a few slick St Brigid’s handpasses ended with Kilbride rounding Ollie Flanagan and booting the ball to an empty net. Game over.
An experienced outfit like Brigid’s were never going to let Ballagh’ off the hook at that stage and they maintained their discipline (Barry Regan was only given one opportunity to score from a free all day) and composure to freewheel across the finishing line.
Ballagh’s only score of the second period came when Regan converted that solitary place-kick in the 49th minute while the evergreen Shane Curran pulled off a flying save late on to deny James Kilcullen a consolation goal.
In the weeks and months ahead, Mark Dowd’s team will be able to take some comfort from the football they played during the second quarter, in particular.
Despite scoring first through Barry Kelly, it was the eventual winners that made the running early on and St Brigid’s led by 0-4 to 0-1 after 13 minutes as they settled into their pass and move,’ ‘tika-taka’ style of football.
Richard Blaine and Frankie Dolan both nailed classy points from play after moves that were painstakingly created by the recycling of possession while Senan Kilbride and Dolan converted ‘soft’ frees from Ballagh’s perspective.
Predictably, the Mayo lads’ revival coincided with Barry Kelly and James Kilcullen wresting control of midfield and driving their team forward in the process. Stephen Drake and Barry Regan also helped out in this regard around the middle ‘diamond’.
The pace and energy of Michael Tyrell and Owen Jordan were also rewarded with a couple of well-engineered scores from the tyros as Ballagh’ finally got into the groove.
They started to take the game to St Brigid’s, hassling and harrying them from pillar to post, and a brace of long-range points from Barry Regan and David Drake had the rank outsiders back in contention by the short whistle.
The scoreboard read 0-6 to 0-5 at that stage (Senan Kilbride having raised two more white flags for the Rossies), but anybody expecting a second half that went to the wire was sadly disappointed.
This was St Brigid’s day, but Ballagh’ lost nothing in defeat.
S Curran; R Stack (0-1), P Domican, J Murray; D Kelleher, D Donnelly, N Grehan; K Mannion, I Kilbride (0-1); E Sheehy, G Dolan, G Cunniffe; S Kilbride (1-5, 3fs), F Dolan (0-3, 1f), R Blaine (0-1).
Subs used: D Dolan (0-1) for Sheehy (half-time); Cathal McHugh for Kelleher (44mins); Conor McHugh for Blaine (54mins); G Aherne for Donnelly (55mins); D Sheehy for Grehan (56mins).
O Flanagan; P Rogers, K Rogers, T Regan; P Kelly, S Drake, D Drake (0-1); B Kelly (0-1), J Kilcullen; O Jordan (0-1), B Regan (0-2, 1f), S Finn; M Tyrell (0-1), J Dillon, C Doohan.
Subs used: R Conway for Doohan (half-time); M Towey for Tyrell (50mins); B Solan for Finn (50 mins).
Referee: Marty Duffy (Sligo)