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New champions do it their way

Sport

PUTTING THEM UNDER PRESSUREWestport’s Luke Tunney gets his shot in on goal despite the close attentions of Ballina Stephenites’ Padraig O’Hora during Sunday’s Mayo SFC Final. Pic: Conor McKeown


Analysis

Edwin McGreal

HERE are two reasons why we felt that Ballina Stephenites would win last Sunday’s County Senior Final.
Firstly, they were scoring far more than Westport (22 points average to 14.25 in the last four games) against similar quality opponents.
Secondly, they were playing with greater confidence, it seemed.
Ballina, with their tradition, looked a team this season who felt it was their destiny to lift the Paddy Moclair Cup again.
Westport, meanwhile, were playing with what seemed a certain nervousness and trepidation. They were favourites for most of the year and were also strong contenders in 2020 and 2021.
They have a wealth of talent at their disposal, with the club’s underage successes in the past decade providing a rich bounty for the senior team.  
But the hurdle to win your first county senior title is a huge one, especially when there’s expectation on you. And, at times in recent weeks, Westport looked like they had the weight of the world on their shoulders en route to this final.
The semi-final win over Castlebar was a case in point. They should have been out of sight but left the door open with a tentative approach and Mitchels very nearly stole the game.
Will there ever be a bigger score in the club’s history than Shane Scott’s dramatic, last second winning goal that day?
On Sunday, Westport showed that while Ballina had cut loose against impressive defensive sides like Knockmore and Ballintubber, they were not going to have the same latitude against the Covies.
Keeping the Stephenites to 1-6 was incredible going and certainly helps to justify a pragmatic, defensive approach. But, even with that done, this still became a test of character and it was one Westport answered with flying colours.
Killian Kilkelly’s penalty had Martin Connolly’s team three points up midway through the second half and a goal in a game like this felt like more than just three points.
But that advantage was wiped out on 51 minutes when Padraig O’Hora, driving forward to try to make something happen, did just that by toe-poking a loose ball home. Level game and a team with the weight of the world on their shoulders might struggle in such a scenario.
But Westport stuck to what they were doing, trusted in the process, and came up with the goods when needed most, kicking four of the last five points.
That took character and belief in themselves and their approach.
It wasn’t pretty.
Westport severely curtailed Ballina’s expansive game. They have the capacity and talent to open teams up by playing a more liberal style of football, but Martin Connolly and Shane Conway clearly felt that lower scoring games give them more control and that they have the players to get the crucial scores in tight situations. And they did.
They owe no debt to the game.
Sunday was about getting over the line and making the breakthrough.
Westport were last in a County Senior Final in 1991. Not many people can tell you the specifics of that game, but the first thing people will remember is Westport lost and Hollymount won.
Westport will win more now, of that there is no doubt.
They’ve cleared their biggest hurdle.

Third time lucky for Ballyhaunis
MEANWHILE, Ballyhaunis’ Intermediate success was fully merited. They were the better team in the final, just as they have looked the best team virtually all season, save for their wobble in an opening round draw to Castlebar Mitchels B.
They had the game’s best performer in Jack Coyne, who did an excellent job on Jack Carney, while they had the ability to get the game’s big scores when the title was there to be won at the start of the final quarter.
It was a rare - but typically penetrating - run into attack from Keith Higgins that set the wheels in motion for a Morgan Lyons point which put them two up. Three more points would follow quickly from Kevin Byrne (2) and Jason Coyne and suddenly the gap was a gulf.
But Kilmeena will rue missed goal chances.
In the second half Joey Smyth hit the net but was pinged for picking the ball off the ground. It was one of those which some referees let go but was hard to argue with either. Jack Carney had a palmed effort cleared off the line by his nemesis on the day, Jack Coyne, while Darragh Keaveney rattled the crossbar with a point effort that dipped while Ballyhaunis goalie Adrian Phillips remained rooted to the spot.
For the first two chances, Carney initiated both chances with powerful runs. Coyne wasn’t marking him for the second and it’s no coincidence that the Kilmeena midfielder cut through the defence.
But when he got on the end of a 1-2, he found his nemesis on the day on the line to clear the danger.

Islandeady full value for win
WHEN Séamie Lally found the net within two minutes of the second half, it was hard to see a way back for Cill Chomáin in Sunday’s Junior final.
Lally’s goal left Islandeady 2-6 to 1-3 up and, while Bryan O’Flaherty had to make some smart late saves, Islandeady largely controlled the second half from there.
They were on top in most areas of the field.
Tom Gibbons did a sterling job on Justin Healy. Niall McCormack and Peter Gordon also excelled at the back. Lally and team captain Peter Collins were superb at midfield while Brendan Gibbons and Darragh Joyce were a cut above up top.
Liam Joyce’s superbly taken first half goal was pivotal in giving them breathing room too.
It’s a return to Intermediate after they were relegated by Swinford two years ago, conceding two late goals to lose in the most dramatic and heartbreaking circumstances.
The influence of their teenage goalkeeper O’Flaherty on their championship success has to be noted. After a horrible concession of two late goals himself for Mayo Under-20s in their Connacht Final defeat to Sligo, O’Flaherty has bounced back with an outstanding campaign, kicking long range points for fun and proving rock solid between the sticks.
Westport and Ballyhaunis both underscored their character.
So did Islandeady — and none of them more so than the talented O’Flaherty.

 

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