NOW YOU SEE IT, NOW YOU DON’T Eight Crossmolina players are beaten by Andy Moran’s free-kick during injury-time of last Sunday’s Breaffy House Resort Mayo SFC Final replay in McHale Park Castlebar.
Champions return to summit
THERE are times when we walk away from a game of Gaelic football with smiles on our faces and hope in our hearts.
Every so often a match transcends the sport and the effort, character, pride in one’s place and sheer craftsmanship transports us all to a higher plain.
Crossmolina hit the high notes to achieve the club’s seventh Mayo SFC title success, their sixth since 1995, and for the likes of Ciaran McDonald, the Nallens, Damien Mulligan, Paul McGuinness and Joe Keane this was their sixth championship win too.
To witness McDonald in full flight last Sunday at McHale Park was to watch an artist at work. He and the football seemed intertwined; his mind was sharp and incisive, and his left foot painted pretty pictures in the open spaces of the canvass.
He sprayed passes like only he can and he kicked points that lifted people out of their seats and drew gasps of admiration from every one of the 4,500 people that turned out.
But his individual heroics were only made possible by the selfless dedication and will-to-win that Crossmolina GAA club have cultivated in this group of extraordinary players. Long after the memories of this win have faded, their legacy will endure.
And the same can be said of Ballaghaderreen’s performance. Seldom has such a young group of footballers come so close to upsetting the hegemony that exists in Mayo football. They played with confidence in their own ability and without fear of the opposition. They were a breath of fresh air.
However, that will be of little consolation to them this week as they reflect on the one that got away. The reality is that Ballagh’ were within seconds of an historic, sensational victory ten days ago but end the season empty-handed. Such is life.
It was obvious from the opening minutes of this mile-a-minute replay that things were going to be different second time around. Crossmolina arrived wearing poker-faces and went to work from the throw-in. They were assured in everything they did and their work-rate was nothing short of extraordinary.
Peadar Gardiner smacked over the opening score from distance on 50 seconds and Ciaran McDonald doubled the lead on eight minutes. The Deel Rovers hunted in packs, moved the ball to the scoring zone at speed and were moving fluently.
Andy Moran checked their momentum with a well-taken score on 13 minutes to open Ballagh’s account but a couple of quick points from the marauding Gardiner and McDonald (free) eased Cross’ into a 0-4 to 0-1 lead.
Ballagh’ were playing at full throttle just to keep up but a brace of frees from Barry Regan left just the minimum between the teams after 23 minutes. Frank Kelly’s team had lost the element of surprise but they were improvising.
Crossmolina had the bit between their teeth though. Tom Nallen defended stoutly as Declan Keating and Peadar Gardiner came raiding down the flanks. James Nallen and Damien Syron also blunted the influence of James Kilcullen and Barry Kelly while Paul McGuinness worked like a dervish.
The twin-threat of Joe Keane and Brian Benson in the inside line also gave the champions a viable ‘out’ if possession needed to be ferried to the danger zone. They nailed a point apiece to nudge Cross’ into a 0-6 to 0-4 lead before Ciaran McDonald capped a period of individual excellence with an audacious point from the left wing.
A difficult situation then got worse for Ballagh’ when – through no fault of their own – Ciaran McDonald peeled their defence wide open with a slide-rule pass. It was a sublime ball that left James Nallen in the clear. He drew Ollie Flanagan and dished a pass to Brian Benson who lashed the ball to an empty net.
A Barry Regan free deep in injury-time brought the curtain down on the first half with Crossmolina ahead by double scores: 1-7 to 0-5.
The second half flew by. Ballaghaderreen spent only a few minutes in the dressing-room at the interval and blitzed their opponents in the first eleven minutes after the restart.
Andy Hanley and Joe Dillon kicked early points before Hanley drilled in a goal to level the match. The tide was beginning to turn.
But Crossmolina came roaring back. They shrugged off the loss of Ronan Rochford, Jonathan O’Boyle and Pierce Loftus (all injured) and reeled off five points without reply between the 43rd and 55th minutes.
This was a spell when Ciaran McDonald took centre stage; the shaman hit four classic points (two from play) and also placed Joe Keane for another as Ballagh’ were rocked back on their heels. It was 1-12 to 1-7 by the time Crossmolina paused for breath.
To their credit, Ballaghaderreen continued to press and probe and an incredible Andy Moran goal from a free in the 59th minute threw them a life-line. Moran’s perfectly-struck drop-kick flew past eight Crossmolina players into the top corner from 20m.
With just two points between the teams with only minutes remaining Ballagh’ threw everything into attack without any reward. Instead, Crossmolina played keep-ball and worked an opening for sub’ Mark Leonard who split the posts from 35m.
It was a fitting signature to two dramatic games.
P O’Donnell; R Rochford, T Nallen, J O’Boyle; D Keating, D Mulligan, P Gardiner (0-2); J Nallen, D Syron; P McGuinness, C McDonald (0-7, 4fs), L Moffatt; S Rochford, J Keane (0-2), B Benson (1-1).
Subs used: N Hegarty for O’Boyle (inj); P Loftus for R Rochford (inj); E Lavelle for Loftus (inj); M Leonard (0-1) for S Rochford.
O Flanagan; J McCann, D McGarry, T Regan; S Drake, D Kilcullen, G Conway; B Kelly, J Kilcullen; A Hanley (1-1), J Dillon (0-1), D Moran; A Moran (1-2), B Regan (0-3, 3fs), M Solan.
Subs used: P Hanley for D McGarry; K Cunniffe for Solan.
Referee: D Corcoran (Islandeady)
The Main Man
THE lean, mean machine was back with a vengeance. It wasn’t only his hairstyle that had changed in seven days either. Tackled, worked hard, passed beautifully and kicked seven points.