NO HOLDING BACK Ballintubber's Ruaidhri O'Connor is tackled by Corofin's Gary Sice during Sunday's Connacht Club SFC Final at MacHale Park, Castlebar. Pic: Sportsfile
Billy Joe Padden
THIS is going to be a long, hard week for all the Ballintubber players and their management team.
After such a great run over the last few months, accepting that it’s over and ended without that elusive Connacht club title will take a while to sink in.
But I would be stressing the positives for Ballintubber after such a hugely positive season.
The reality is that they just didn’t have the same strength in depth as Corofin last Sunday and the Galway lads showed just how and why they are the reigning All-Ireland club champions.
Ballintubber squeezed every last drop out of what they had to win a county title and reach the Connacht Final, and I really think that Kevin Johnson can be very proud of the way his team performed.
Last Sunday I thought the subs that Corofin brought in, especially Ian Burke obviously, tilted the balance once Ballintubber started to tire.
The Mayo champions started the game impressively, and they defended as well and as smartly as any team with the exception of the first Corofin goal.
That was the first time that Ballintubber were caught out with a ball over the top from midfield — similar in a lot of ways to Ian Burke’s goal in the second half.
It didn’t matter that Corofin essentially butchered the final pass in each instance; they still managed to work the goal regardless because of the quality of players like Micheál Lundy and Ian Burke.
But Ballintubber will be disappointed that, despite having four defenders back around their own goal, Lundy was still able to wriggle through and lash in the goal.
There were a few things though that I felt Ballintubber did exceptionally well in the first half.
I thought they were really good in how they defended around their own ‘D’. They were physical, committed, organised and broke up so many Corofin attacks around that area.
One occasion where Cillian O’Connor won the ball around the full-back position sticks out in my mind. Alan Dillon and Diarmuid O’Connor were back there working like Trojans too, and Brian Murphy won a few 50/50 balls that took a lot of commitment and perception.
But one thing that struck me was what happened when they won the ball back in that sector — they weren’t able to construct too many effective counter-attacks.
It was noticeable that most of their scores in the first half came from the way they put the Corofin kick-out under huge pressure.
Jamsie Finnerty’s goal came from them putting the big squeeze on brilliantly.
With the benefit of hindsight it’s easy to see where things went wrong for Ballintubber in the second half. They put in an immense effort in the first half and it was always going to be difficult for them to sustain those energy levels.
Corofin were going to empty their bench, and having Ian Burke to come in was a serious bonus for them. I thought they picked their moment to introduce him brilliantly, he’s an exceptional talent, and he has that ability to improve the players around him.
And what about his goal when he turned a bad pass into a green flag!
The strength of the Corofin bench meant that their energy levels were increasing as the second half wore on, and a few Ballintubber mistakes led to Corofin scores that also dented their morale.
In the end it was a combination of all these factors that caught up with Ballintubber, but they can feel proud of their efforts when they reflect back on a memorable season.
O’Connor will benefit from a break
I’M not sure if James Horan was in MacHale Park or not on Sunday, but I’d imagine that he probably felt a certain sense of relief when the final whistle blew on Ballintubber’s season.
Of course, as a Ballintubber man he’ll have been disappointed not to see them claim an historic Connacht title, but as the Mayo manager he’ll be glad to see some of his key men get a chance to recharge their batteries and get any knocks and niggles sorted.
Cillian O’Connor will certainly benefit from a break; by all accounts he needs to get some treatment for a long-standing knee problem and it’s absolutely vital for him and Mayo that he returns to action next year firing on all cylinders.
As he’s getting older, it’s so important that he gets these kind of injuries sorted out. His body has got a lot of wear and tear already and it’s effecting every part of his game — including his free-taking at times. That was obvious to me on Sunday with a couple of his frees, including the one he missed in the second half.
He needs to go away now, get himself right, forget about weights, and just come back when he’s fully fit and ready to go.
Another thing that struck me watching last Sunday was the number of times that Cillian ended up being the guy ‘on the loop’ around 50 or 60 yards from goal. When Ballintubber were kicking ball into him close to goal, and he was winning it, he looked dangerous. But when he wasn’t the primary target in there, he tended to drift out and try and loop around the man on the ball.
I think he needs to be repositioning himself on the edge of the square instead of ending up too far from goal so often. But I have a feeling we’ll see a different Cillian when he gets his body sorted over the next few months.