Ballina back in business
SFC Section D
YOU dismiss them at your peril. That is the message Ballina Stephenites etched on the minds of those who watched them brush aside the championship challenge of their old rivals Castlebar Mitchels at MacHale Park on Saturday evening.
Shrugging off the mediocrity of previous performances, the former All-Ireland champions laid down a marker for those who thought they had lost their sparkle with a victory which carried few question marks.
From the opening moments there was a determination about their play that left no one in doubt about their intentions. Sharp and hungry, they had the shape of a side ready to make a bold bid to recapture the Moclair Cup. That challenge will be reinforced by the imminent return of their injured players and, back to full strength, they will be a handful for the best.
Castlebar also fielded an understrength side. The loss of the Feeney brothers, Niall Lydon and Rory O’Grady, who are in America, left the team hamstrung and while their replacements were as committed as any, their lack of experience was clearly evident.
The foundation for the victory of the visitors was laid at midfield where Ronan McGarrity and Pat Harte were in almost total command.
The foraging of Paul McGarry was also a contributing factor. Listed at full-forward, McGarry moved to left half and brought all of his experience to bear in a busy and industrious performance. He contributed four points to their total and was splendidly supported by Adrian Kelly, Rory Campion and Ger Brady.
It was Kelly’s goal in the 24th minute that opened the gap between the sides. The build-up was started by Shane Melia who laid off to Ger Brady. The centre half forward commenced one of his trademark runs, cutting through the defence and finding Kelly lurking behind the defence. A goal was inevitable and Kelly took the chance with aplomb. It was the decisive score.
Up to that moment, Castlebar had matched the visitors score for score. They were level on four occasions and the exchanges were even and exciting. Harte, McGarrity, Brady, Campion and McGarry had Ballina’s five points. Kevin Filan (2), Kevin Malone, Dwane Flynn and Shane Fitzmaurice responded for Castlebar.
But you always felt Ballina had the vital edge and when the goal came, the gap was never closed. Malone and Filan did narrow it, but by half-time Ballina had a two-point lead . . . 1-6 to 0-7.
Twelve minutes into the second half they were well on their way to victory with points by Harte, Campion, McGarry, Gerard Cafferkey and Kelly to Castlebar’s sole response by Filan from a free. As a contest it swung just one way.
Cafferkey, had a fine game at left-half, with staunch support from Kenny Golden, James Devenney, Colm Leonard, Martin Wynne and Brian Ruane.
The Mitchels battled gamely to the end. And no one could have done more to stem the Ballina tide than Sean Ryder. He had a superb, battling game at centre-half back, and was eclipsed for man of the match only by Ronan McGarrity. He scored one of the four second half points, Filan bagging the other three from frees.
Tom Cunniffe, Alan Joyce, John Conlon, and Ronan Burke worked hard in defence, and there was the occasional flash from Shane Fitzmaurice and Barry Moran at midfield without either ever reaching the standard set by McGarrity and Harte. Kevin Malone and Kevin Filan were best of the forward line.
The Main Man
Displaying the Connacht final form that won him so much admiration, McGarrity turned in another superb performance and was central to most of Ballina’s work.
J Healy; M Wynne, J Devenney, K Golden; B Ruane, C Leonard, G Cafferkey (0-1); R McGarrity (0-1), P Harte (0-3); E Casey, G Brady (0-1), S Melia; A Kelly (1-2), P McGarry (0-4), R Campion (0-2). Subs: C Sweeney for R McGarrity; I O’Dowd for A Kelly.
C Naughton; J Conlon, D Larkin, A Joyce; R Burke, S Ryder, T Cunniffe; S Fitzmaurice (0-1), B Moran; D Flynn (0-1), K Malone (0-2), E Tiernan; C Gavin, A Nolan, K Filan (0-6). Subs: D Byrne for D Flynn; F O’Dowd for E Tiernan; P Healy for C. Gavin; D Gordon for K. Filan.
Referee: R. Gurren (Aghamore)