EYES FOR ONE THING ONLY Ballyhaunis’ Keith Higgins charges through the James Stephens, Ballina defence during Saturday’s Mayo SHC Final in Charlestown.
Three in a row success for Ballyhaunis hurlers
Mayo SHC Final
Fr O’Hara Park
BALLYHAUNIS hurlers have grown fond of the winning habit. They made it three in a row on Saturday when they saw off the determined challenge of Ballina in the county decider at Charlestown. After winning their first senior crown in 2002, four out of five since then speaks volumes for the strength of the current squad, who have shaped a new stronghold for the game adjacent to the hurling heartland of nearby Tooreen.
It was a victory to savour for the lads from East Mayo. Without being spectacular, they did enough to fashion a deserved win. But Ballina will realise that they were not too far off the mark on this occasion after turning in a strong second half performance which saw them match Ballyhaunis puck for puck.
Ballyhaunis captain Pierce Higgins was understandably elated with the victory.
“We are absolutely thrilled to have won it. I know it probably wasn’t the best game of hurling to watch out there today. It was tough, it was hard but they still have to be won. We tried not to think about the three in a row but at the back of your mind I suppose the thought was always there. It’s nice to be at the top of Mayo hurling again. We have a lot of work put in,” admitted Higgins.
The Moysiders had an early boost when a long delivery by Kevin Healy was flicked to the Ballyhaunis net by Alan Stenson. That goal came just six minutes into the game and a short time after Keith Higgins had raised the first white flag of the day for the champions.
Both teams displayed early jitters with John Duffy shooting wide from two scorable frees and Keith Higgins, uncharacteristically, doing likewise at the other end. Ballyhaunis were very sluggish in the opening quarter and were a pale shadow of the team that turned in such a strong first half display against Tooreen a week earlier.
However, midway through the half, Keith Higgins pointed a ‘65 and was denied a goal two minutes later when Thomas Duffy brought off a wonderful save in the Ballina goalmouth.
Twenty minutes in and Ballina still clung to a one point lead but this was to change a minute later when Paul McConn raced through the Ballina defence before placing Stephen Carney, who neatly hand-passed across to Fergal Walsh for the latter to bat home a nicely taken goal.
It was the break they needed after a lethargic opening period and Keith Higgins, showing real class and some wonderful body swerving moves that took him inside the Ballina defence, added three points before the interval, including two delightful strikes from play.
Ballina had their chances too but Alan Stenson and Alan Cawley were both narrowly wide of the posts at the other end. Ballyhaunis led by 1-5 to 1-0 at the interval but Ballina should have had a few points on the board in that opening half.
A flurry of scores on the restart from Keith Higgins, two of which would have proudly graced any hurling final in Kilkenny, Cork, Tipperary or Galway, saw the champions open up an eight point lead. Higgins had scored all eight points for Ballyhaunis at this stage and they looked on course to romp home in style.
But Ballina, to their credit, never gave up the fight. And in staging a strong second half display, they were especially inspired by the terrific commitment of captain Anthony Healy and fullback Declan Cafferkey, both of whom were quite superb when battling against the odds.
Healy was inspirational as captain and was heroic in his efforts to get Ballina back into contention. For sheer commitment and accompanying skills, he packed some punch in the halfback line. And Declan Cafferkey was magnificent at full back. His reading of the game was awesome and time and time again he effected some wonderful clearances as he repulsed numerous Ballyhaunis attacks with a delightful old fashioned display of what fullback hurling is all about.
Points from Paul Reape, John Duffy and Kevin Healy saw Ballina close the gap to five points with eight minutes to play and a Ballina goal at that stage would have produced a grand stand finish. But Fergal Walsh flighted over a point for Ballyhaunis to ease the pressure before the final score of the game fell to Ballina’s John Duffy who pointed from a close in free.
Three in a row is always special and the entire Ballyhaunis squad will look back on this achievement in years to come with much pride and joy. While Keith Higgins was once again the star of the show, a special mention must go to fullback Peter Healy who turned in an excellent display and was rock-solid in the Ballyhaunis defence. Goalie Michael Walshe did well throughout while Pierse Higgins, Derek Walsh and Hugh Carney all got through a lot of good work with Paul Lynch and Hughie McKermitt also contributing handsomely to the quality Ballyhaunis defence.
The McConn brothers, Derek at midfield and Paul in the attack, also worked exceptionally hard for the champions and were instrumental in providing a lot of quality ball for Keith Higgins. Paul narrowly escaped a serious injury in a completely accidental clash in injury time. Fergal Walsh also did well in the attack while Stephen Carney can be happy with his contribution.
For Ballina, Declan Cafferkey, Anthony Healy, Gerard Cafferkey and Rory Campion were top drawer material while goalie Thomas Duffy as well as Bernard Barrett, Kenny Golden, Kevin Healy and Alan Stenson were others to the fore in the Ballina challenge that pushed the champions all the way to the finish.
It is time for Ballyhaunis now to look forward to the Connacht Championship.
“You can’t have great games everyday,” continued Pierce Higgins. “I know people were saying that the three games against Tooreen were super. It was nerve-wracking and, as I was saying to the boys, there wasn’t a lot ate on recent Saturdays because they were so nervous. But if we didn’t leave here today without this cup, everything would have been for nothing. We’re looking forward now to the game against Athleague on Monday.”
M Walshe; D Walsh, P Healy, H McKermitt; P Lynch, P Higgins, H Carney; T Buckley, D McConn; F Walshe (1-1), K Higgins (0-8), P McConn; C McCrudden, L Lyons, S Carney. Subs: S Hoban for S Carney, B Keogh for T Buckley, P Carney for P McConn (inj).
T Duffy; C Sheridan, D Cafferkey, T Cawley; B Barrett, K Golden, A Healy; H Lewis, G Cafferkey; R Campion, K Healy (0-1), A Cawley; A Stenson (1-0), J Duffy (0-2), P Reape (0-1). Subs: V O’Hora for C Sheridan, S Golden for V O’Hora.
Referee: C Byrne (Eastern Gaels)