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Ballagh’ break through

Ballaghaderreen captain Gary Conway blocks a shot from Knockmore’s Damien Munnelly
 Ballaghaderreen captain Gary Conway blocks a shot from Knockmore’s Damien Munnelly during the closing stages of the Breaffy House Resort Mayo SFC semi-final in McHale Park, Castlebar.

Ballagh’ break through

Breaffy House Resort Mayo Championship SFC Semi-final

Mike Finnerty

WHAT a difference a year makes. Were it not for a late reprieve at the end of last season Ballagh’ would have been playing in the Intermediate Championship this summer. But fate intervened and the rest is history.
In fact, in light of this well-deserved and ultimately comfortable victory last Sunday at McHale Park, Ballagh’ are now in with a chance of making another piece of history.
Thirty-four years have elapsed since the East Mayo border club won their first – and last – Moclair Cup and it’s twenty-one years since their last appearance in a County Senior Final. But now they’re back.
The team that Frank Kelly, John O’Mahony and Pat Grady have fashioned over the last ten months did what they had to do here without ever scaling previous lofty heights.
Their defence kept Knockmore’s admittedly anaemic attack to five points from play; Barry Kelly, in particular, and James Kilcullen ruled the roost at midfield for long spells, and the likes of Derek Moran and Barry Regan provided enough glimpses of guile and scoring power to guide their team home.
Knockmore will be disappointed with their performance. With the exception of John Brogan, Trevor Howley, Declan Sweeney and Peter Clarke, the North Mayo men were second best in most of the individual battles and the lack of a cutting edge cost them dearly during an evenly-contested third quarter. Their final wides tally of thirteen tells it own story.
Ballagh’ also have plenty to work on before October 29. They failed to score from play during the second half and went twenty-four minutes without any score during a period before and after half-time.
But that is for another day. Semi-finals are all about winning and that is what a fit and focussed Ballagh’ did. They went out with a game-plan and they stuck to it.
Man of the match Stephen Drake kept a very tight rein on Knockmore’s danger man Aidan Kilcoyne from start to finish while Barry Kelly manufactured a platform in the centre of the field.
A point from Knockmore’s hard-working Cormac Rowland after only 40 seconds proved to be a false dawn and by the end of the first quarter the eventual winners had eased into a 0-4 to 0-1 lead.
Some of Ballagh’s approach work and link-play was sublime, half-backs pushing forward to create overlaps and quality ball being delivered to nimble forwards that showed constantly in front.
Barry Regan levelled with a free before a string of magnificent long-range points arrived from Andy Hanley, Derek Moran and Regan to ease wind-assisted Ballagh’ three clear.
The impressive Derek Moran then traded scores with Cormac Rowland (free) before the game’s decisive score came in the 22nd minute.
Not for the first time Knockmore were the architects of their own demise. They lost possession cheaply and Ballagh’ broke at pace, Barry Regan linking up with the subdued Andy Moran who lashed the ball past Derek Butler. The same player then swung over a long-range point which was cancelled out by the industrious Rowland to leave Knockmore trailing by 1-6 to 0-3 at half-time.
They could have been a lot closer had Ollie Flanagan not denied Declan Sweeney a goal with a point-blank save in the 28th minute.
The second half was a disappointing affair overall and despite early points from the tireless Peter Clarke and Aidan Kilcoyne, Knockmore faded out of contention.
Far too often their raids into the heart of the opposition defence ended with poor shot selection or the wrong option being taken. The fact that they only managed one point in thirty minutes of football underlines the paucity of their offensive unit.
Ballagh’s performance levels also dipped noticeably in the second period. Their defence was superbly marshalled by Stephen Drake, David Kilcullen and Gary Conway but their forward-line were not as cohesive or free-flowing during the second half.
Part of the problem for the winners was that John Brogan and Trevor Howley were outstanding after the restart. They did everything they could to inspire a revival but scoring remained Knockmore’s achilles heel.
Three frees from Barry Regan in the 44th, 50th and 60th minutes was all Ballagh’ could muster in a scoring sense in the second half but it was more than enough to keep Knockmore at arm’s length.
Trevor Howley’s lone point in the 48th minute was the sum total of their scores in the last quarter although Ollie Flanagan produced a smart save to deny Damien Munnelly a goal a minute later. The same player also saw a deflected shot clip the post in the 53rd minute.
But there were too many ifs, buts and maybes for Aidan McHale’s team who can reflect with some satisfaction on their championship exploits.
And Ballagh’? Well, they’re not finished yet.

O Flanagan; J McCann, D McGarry, T Regan; S Drake, D Kilcullen, G Conway; B Kelly, J Kilcullen; A Hanley (0-1), D Moran (0-2), M Solan; A Moran (1-1), B Regan (0-5, 4fs), M O’Gara.
Subs used: J Dillon for O’Gara; P Hanley for Solan; B Solan for A Hanley.
D Butler; J Coy, A Keane, G Reape; J Brogan, T Howley (0-1), D Keane; D Sweeney, S Sweeney; A Kilcoyne (0-1), P Clarke (0-1), K Langan; D Munnelly, C Butler, C Rowland (0-3, 1f).
Subs used: K McLoughlin for D Keane; Shane Sweeney for Butler; G Gaughan for Langan; G Higgins for Rowland.
Referee: M Kenny (Westport)

The Main Man
Stephen Drake

The wing-back is the epitome of the change in Ballagh’s fortunes this season. He is playing good football again, doing the simple things well and using the ball sensibly. Also held Aidan Kilcoyne to just one point.

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