Westport Utd 1
P Fitzgerald 36
Ballina Town 3
K Duffy 30, B Lavelle 50, D Helly 75
THERE won’t have been too many Westport United supporters arguing over the manner of their exit of the Connacht Cup on Saturday evening. The 2012 winners were well below par against their most fierce local rivals of recent seasons, Ballina Town. Ultimately, Westport gave up on a place in the competition’s quarter-final in uncharacteristically easy fashion, though Ballina were worth every inch of their victory.
The game was shrouded in some controversy before a ball was ever kicked, having been re-fixed for Milebush at 5pm on Saturday, despite the protestations of Westport whose pitch at the Sports Park was closed for scheduled maintenance. The game was to be played in Ballina the previous Sunday, but was called off with the teams togged and ready to take to the field, as the pitch at Belleek was deemed unplayable. Negotiations had been ongoing to re-fix the match for later this week, but the powers-that-be insisted it go ahead last Saturday.
Westport simply didn’t perform to their potential, and with a week to go until the start of the new Mayo football season, Ballina laid down a marker against the league champions.
Westport were lucky after just two minutes when a Ballina free kick across the face of goal deceived everybody and went out for a goal kick when it only needed the slightest of touches to put them in front. An even bigger let-off came ten minutes later when Kevin Joyce was called on to do his best bodyguard impression, throwing himself in front of the ball to brilliantly and bravely deny Jamie Cawley a certain goal.
The Coveys were living on the edge by now and the game was heating up, with flying tackles and yellow cards as referee Martin Halligan struggled to keep control on a frosty affair. It took half an hour for Ballina to make the breakthrough after Phil Keegan was deemed to have brought down Cawley in the area. Halligan pointed without hesitation to the spot and flashed a yellow card at Keegan. Keith Duffy made no mistake from the penalty, sending Gary Cunningham the wrong way.
Five minutes later, Ballina missed another gilt-edged chance after a mazy run from Jamie Cawley left Benny Lavelle with little to do, but he was thwarted by Cunningham from close range and Westport were somehow still in the game.
Ballina were left reeling just six minutes after going ahead. After smart play by the impressive Colin Cameron, Mark MacNally sent a dangerous ball across the box, and Pat Fitzgerald finished brilliantly, guiding the ball into the roof of the net from 12 yards. Westport’s chances were limited thereafter, and Ballina goalkeeper Mark Duffy was impressive, in command of his box from a series of inswinging corners and free kicks from Colm Keane and David Cameron.
Lavelle made amends for his earlier miss just five minutes after the restart. Played through on the halfway line, he met the long ball with pace in his legs, bore down on Cunningham’s goal and buried the ball past the Westport captain.
Ballina’s dominance was growing and after Jamie Cawley missed a sitter of a header from less than six yards, veteran Duane Helly wrapped proceedings up from a corner that was left by everybody, finishing from close range to guarantee there would be no extra-time needed in the darkening conditions. Cawley should have compounded the misery for Westport, but somehow missed an open goal from six yards with just minutes to go.
Westport rarely troubled Duffy’s goal in the second half, and the absence of David Hoban and Danny Scahill was evident in the way that Ballina comfortably controlled vast swathes of the match. The result will be a huge boost for Ballina ahead of the new league season.
G Cunningham, K Joyce, M Geraghty, J Lawless, C Keane, C Cameron, D Cameron, P Fitzgerald, D Browne, P Fitzgerald M MacNally.
Subs used: M O’Brien for C Cameron; P Corcoran for MacNally; PJ Calvey fro D Browne.
M Duffy, D Helly, E Gorman, P O’Boyle, S Kelly, K Duffy, D Quinn, S Moyles, B Lavelle, A O’Hora, J Cawley.
Subs used: D Gorman for A O’Hora, N Leahy for J Cawley.
Referee: M Halligan