TIGHT MARKING Westport’s Fionn McDonagh tries to hold off Ballina’s Padraig O’Hora and Keith Tighe (13) during Saturday’s Mayo SFC third round clash at MacHale Park, Castlebar. Pic: Michael Donnelly
SFC Group 2
THE most successful club in the history of the Mayo senior championship have built their reputation on playing fast, open, attractive, attack-minded football.
The Stephenites have always prided themselves on how they go about their business, on and off the field, so the manner of their first victory in this season’s competition will have gone down very well with all involved in the famous Ballina club.
Last Saturday evening the latest reincarnation of a Stephenites’ senior team booked their place in the quarter-finals with an impressive win over a disappointing Westport.
After two draws in their opening two games, Ballina got back to winning ways in style!
Apart from the opening few minutes when they came flying out of the traps to lead by two points, the West Mayo men looked out of sorts and out of form.
Ten first half Westport wides spoiled some decent approach work and proved to be very costly later in the evening, while their county men — Lee Keegan, Fionn McDonagh, Ben Doyle and Oisin McLaughlin — all failed to hit the high notes.
Keegan was noticeably subdued and never got his engine running while McDonagh, who was an injury doubt coming into the game, wasn’t able to influence things the way he normally does.
But Westport had issues in most areas of the field; their defence did their best to hold their own but Ballina enjoyed a lot of dominance around the middle thanks to Ciarán Sweeney, Jack Irwin, Mikey Murray and Seán Regan.
That meant Westport’s attack was often living on scraps and, when they did win possession, especially in the opening half, they were unable to convert it into hard currency.
For the third successive championship game Westport failed to score a goal, and for the second match running they were in dire straits at half-time, trailing here by five points, 0-3 to 0-8.
They also only managed one score in the last 30 minutes.
Manager Tony Duffy did try to reshuffle things as they went along, and there was an improvement in the third quarter, but Westport never looked like overhauling the very capable and confident winners.
The ageless David Clarke ran a tight ship at the back and, despite losing Ger Cafferkey to an injury after only five minutes, Ballina bossed the exchanges from an early stage.
In fact, any time they attacked they looked like scoring, with all six of their starting forwards in the mood to do damage.
Seán Regan ran the show from centre-forward and hit 1-2, while Mayo panellists Mikey Murray, Ciarán Treacy and Evan Regan all showed flashes of their ability, with the latter duo nailing some fine place-kicks.
Keith Tighe also put in a big shift but it was Conor McStay, son of former Mayo forward Paul, who really caught the eye. The young number 15 helped himself to three points from play and had all the tricks, skills and sidesteps to go with his illustrious surname.
McStay terrorised Westport in the opening half, clipping two superb points, while Ciarán Treacy, Jack Irwin and the Regans, Seán (2) and Evan (2) also hit the target.
The latter’s brilliant conversion from a ‘45 brought the curtain down on the first act; Westport’s two scores in the first few minutes from Colm Moran and Killian Kilkelly seemed like an age ago.
Ballina managed to keep their opponents at arm’s length throughout the second half, picking off points in response to Westport scores from Fionn McDonagh, Paul Lambert and Mark Moran to maintain the status quo.
But the Stephenites put the seal on their success in the 55th minute when Seán Regan broke through a stretched defence, played a smart one-two, and buried the ball in the net despite the best efforts of Rory Brickenden to keep it out.
Ballina rounded off a fine day’s work with a few late scores from frees from Ciarán Treacy and Evan Regan while Westport were left to rue missed chances and another flat display.
The Stephenites march into the last eight while Westport, without a win from their three group games, must face into the relegation play-offs.
THE centre-forward grafted hard and finished with 1-2. Conor McStay also caught the eye.
D Clarke; S Mullins, G Cafferkey, C Hunt; R Tighe, J Doherty, P O’Hora; C Sweeney, J Irwin (0-2); M Murray, S Regan (1-2), C Treacy (0-3, 2fs); K Tighe, E Regan (0-4, 3fs, ‘45), C McStay (0-3).
Subs used: D O’Mahony for Cafferkey (5, inj); S Leonard for Sweeney (40); K Newell for McStay (53); D Tighe for Murray (53).
P O’Malley; K Dever, K Keane, B Doyle; B McDermott, L Keegan, N McManamon; S Scott, B O’Malley; O McLaughlin, F McDonagh (0-1), Paul Lambert (0-2); A Kennedy (0-3, 3fs), K Kilkelly (0-1), C Moran (0-1).
Subs used: M Moran (0-2) for Scott (HT); J Walsh (0-1) for McLaughlin (36); R Brickenden for Kennedy (47); E McLaughlin for McDermott (53); Pat Lambert for Kilkelly (57); R Geraghty for Paul Lambert (63).
Referee: K Connelly (Hollymount/Carramore)