NO ESCAPE TO VICTORY Charlestown's Enda Casey, seen here holding up Crossmolina's Joe Keane, did a fine man-marking job on Ciaran McDonald last Sunday. Pic: Keith Heneghan/Phocus
Defeat signals end of an era
IT had to come to an end some day. On Sunday it did . . . with a bang. Despite playing poorly in the drawn match they were still the team to beat. We had expected one more big performance from a side that has produced many heady days for their followers down the years. Unexpectedly, it all ended at McHale Park, the scene of so much of their successes.
Their story began in Ballina in 1995 when Crossmolina won their second – and the first of their last six – county senior titles. An All-Ireland followed, the first in the county. In the years to come they will add to that notable record . . . but with a new backbone. For surely, some of the old soldiers who helped them land the first of those six titles will now fade away.
Tom and James Nallen, Ciaran McDonald, Paul McGuinness and Joe Keane were members of that young team. They have given sterling service to Crossmolina, have been at the heart of all of their victories. But it was evident on Sunday that the football careers of the great men are on the decline.
On Sunday they were a tired team as re-invented Charlestown tore them apart. Their whole plan disintegrated. They had no appetite for the game, no passion, none of the dynamism that has enriched their football over the years.
Maybe they had done too much preparation, too much training. Weariness was widespread in the team; even the younger members were unable to keep pace with Charlestown at any stage of the match.
Apart from one goal effort just after the throw-in, Charlestown were in complete control. I have never seen a Crossmolina team outplayed to such an extent. They had been our choice to reach the final, but for all the experience in their midst they could not muster the energy or the will to make a serious indent on Charlestown’s mounting score tally.
One flourish by Ciaran McDonald near the end when his blistering shot from a free beat eleven Charlestown men stuffing the goalmouth, brightened the scoreline somewhat, but not their hopes. Charlestown drove on relentlessly, and were in no way flattered by their nine-point margin of victory.
The gap would have been much wider if Tony Mulligan had taken advantage of two glaring goal chances during the final minutes or if they scored half of the eighteen other chances they squandered throughout the hour.
But then, it can’t be easy to sustain concentration for an entire hour when you are so vastly superior, as Charlestown were from the opening minute.
At midfield they laid the foundation for victory with the total control of David Tiernan and Tom Parsons. The physical strength and powerful fielding of Parsons was a feature of the game, while Tiernan constantly made himself available as a source of support.
The transfer of Enda Casey to centre half-back to police Ciaran McDonald was a smart move by the selectors, and conspicuously successful. But then all of the backs proved their worth by confining the vaunted Crossmolina forward line to two scorers, all from frees – McDonald with 1-2 and Brian Benson’s sole point. Their other point came from Peadar Gardiner.
In contrast, all but one of the Charlestown forwards got their names on the scoresheet. The front line of Ollie Conway, who had one of his best games for the club, and Tony and Paul Mulligan was particularly effective.
But it was their lively left corner-back Kevin Deignan who got their goal from a penalty after Tony Mulligan was fouled in the square halfway through the second half. Because of their wastefulness Charlestown had not pulled far enough away to cushion against a late Crossmolina rally until Deignan buried the penalty. In play they were miles ahead.
Celebrations were brief in their hometown on Sunday as the winners were forced to redirect their attention to a semi-final duel with Knockmore next Sunday. They are now firm favourites to qualify for the final, but they ought to be wary of opponents who have a reputation for upsetting the odds.
In their win over Burrishoole, Knockmore displayed vast improvement, and will not be overawed by the brilliance of Charlestown last weekend. They are traditional battlers, young, but brave and skilled. Their key men in defence are John Brogan and Trevor Howley, and up front Damien Munnelly and Aiden Kilcoyne.
On the basis of their runaway win last Sunday, Charlestown must be favourites to advance to the final, but Knockmore will test them to the end.
BALLINA WILL ASK SOME QUESTIONS OF BALLAGH
ALL season we have watched them labour through the league and the championship, a shadow of a great side of the past, but now out of favour to reclaim sunnier days.
Dismissed thus as serious county title contenders, Ballina Stephenites will have had no regrets for being categorised among the also-rans. They don’t need anyone to tell them how poorly they have been playing. In the absence of some of their stars they were unable to rediscover a hunger for another title. Their form enthused nobody. You felt they were out just to fulfill a fixture, indifferent about the outcome.
Not even by the quarter-final stage had that old conviction returned when they encountered Garrymore a couple of weeks back. Few moments in that performance reflected the class of old glory.
But Ballaghaderreen beware. While the biggest test of their present stature confronts them on Sunday when they meet the hot title favourites, the Stephenites are not walking blindly into the fray. They know what awaits them if they are not prepared . . . a defeat on the proportions of that handed out to Crossmolina last weekend.
They also know that perhaps the only way to deny Ballagh’ a further county final appearance is through the element of surprise, to confound the critics and cause the shock of the season. That’s why they have no regrets for being outsiders.
They’ll have been working on a plan, gearing the experience of their county stars towards identifying Ballagh’s weaknesses, and maybe undermining their confidence.
One area in which they are likely to have the measure of Ballaghaderreen is midfield. Ronan McGarrity and Pat Harte, or David Brady if he has recovered from injury, ought to have the better of their tussles with Barry Kelly and James Kilcullen.
Elsewhere, they will have problems. Only one of their forwards, Eanna Casey, made an impression against Garrymore. If David Brady is fit, the selectors may boost the forward potential with the inclusion of Pat Harte, but few other choices are available to the selectors to deal with the likes of Stephen Drake, David Kilcullen and Declan McGarry.
Nor has their defence been sufficiently mobile to dam the waves of attacks mounted by Barry and Derek Moran, Pierce and Andy Hanley, Barry Regan and Barry Solan, a formidable unit that no defence has tamed this year.
Other than a fifteen-minute spell in their quarter-final, when Kiltane began to muscle them out of their rhythm, was any real defect exposed in the East Mayo side. But that maybe the chink for which Ballina are searching, the crack in their opponents’ armour. Maybe Ballaghaderreen can be hustled off the ball and off their usual pattern of play.
Otherwise they appear invulnerable and on track, as they have been all year, for another county final appearance. While they are equipped to achieve that aim, they will be aware of the shock tremors created by the downfall of the champions, and it may help to fight off any tendency towards complacency.
On the other hand the surprising dominance of Charlestown will not be lost on Ballina. If the champions can crash out so heavily, the possibility cannot be ruled out that the pretenders might also be brought down to earth.