CENTRE OF ATTENTION Ballina's Ronan McGarrity is interviewed by Micheál Ó Domhnaill of TG4 after receiving his man of the match award last Sunday. Pic: Michael Donnelly
McGarrity a tower of strength
THEIR statement came within seconds, unfurled in Stephen Hughes’ wonder goal, and for the following 63 minutes or so their opponents struggled unsuccessfully to repair the gaping breach in their confidence.
That marker set, all of their experience was summoned by Ballina Stephenites and wonderfully captured in their rigid resistance to the game efforts of St Brigid’s to exploit the loss of key defender David O’Mahoney.
The Ballina corner back was dismissed for a double yellow card offence less than 15 minutes into the second half of a riveting Connacht final. St Brigid’s luck had begun to turn, it seemed, for O’Mahoney’s infringement appeared as innocuous as the offence which earned Ballina a penalty in the first half.
The crowd brayed for retribution a short while later when Frankie Dolan, who had already received a yellow card and a further warning, escaped the referee’s wrath for another serious offence. Whether in some sort of perverse way that decision was a bigger help to Ballina than to St Brigid’s will never be known.
But the reality is that Ballina found new strength when reduced to 14. They played with a great sense of purpose at a time when many of their more seasoned players might have been expected to fade. From some source they found the will and spirit to thwart almost every scoring effort by Brigid’s, including a screaming shot by Mark O’Carroll in the final seconds which came back off an upright and was rescued by David Brady.
The Roscommon champions had depended on the midfield partnership of O’Carroll and Karol Mannion to launch a successful defence of their Connacht title. Both looked very ordinary, however, in comparison to the towering performance of Ronan McGarrity who with David Brady dominated midfield. McGarrity’s was a man of the match performance, gritty and intelligent ... and, characteristically, available always to help backs and forwards.
Others in contention for the honour were corner forward Stephen Hughes, whose vision, courage and fielding above much taller opponents were striking features of the game, and Shane Sweeney, who had one of his best hours ever in a Ballina shirt.
Judicious use of the varying skills of David Brady and Pat Harte was a significant component of victory. Brady’s two points in the first half, his physical strength and his breaking of the ball frustrated every effort by St Brigid’s to gain a foothold on the game.
Pat Harte was at his fittest all year, and if there was a message in Stephen Hughes’ goal, Harte’s blistering penalty shot was confirmation of Ballina’s determination. The awarding of it was a bit harsh, but its despatch was proficient. When moved to midfield in the final quarter, Harte helped in no small way to sustain midfield mastery.
Ballina’s defence was quite heroic. There were moments in the first half when Martin Wynne found himself under pressure from Brigid’s strong and effective full-forward Senan Kilbride. More agile than you would expect from a big, strong man, Kilbride – son of former Mayo and Roscommon star Seán Kilbride – scored four excellent points. His threat withered, however, in the second half as the well-marshalled Ballina defence tightened their grip on Kilbride and Brigid’s goalscoring hero of the semi-final, David O’Connor, who failed to get on the scoring list on Sunday. Kenny Golden was designated to mark O’Connor and his rigorous efficiency was rewarded.
Nor did former Roscommon star Frankie Dolan make any impression on the tough no-nonsense defending of Colm Leonard, a much under-rated centre half-back. Dolan’s inaccuracy from frees added to Brigid’s woes, and the fact that Garvan Dolan also rarely threatened was due to the solid if unspectacular work of Brian Ruane.
No player in defence was insignificant, but two daring saves by David Clarke in goal and the exciting resilience and interventions by Shane Sweeney epitomised Ballina’s approach. Nobody on the side gave less than a full-blooded performance. A fine win for a fine side and a worthy Christmas present for another year of splendid achievement.