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Westport win a war of attrition

Sport

UP FOR GRABS Ballina Stephenites’ Frank Irwin and Westport’s Brian O’Malley tussle for possession during Sunday’s Mayo SFC Final. Pic: Conor McKeown

Expert View
Stephen Drake

IT wasn’t a classic County Final, but that won’t be of any concern to Westport this week.
They have made history and there’s nothing like winning your first Moclair Cup.
They thoroughly deserved their victory, and I’m especially delighted for Lee Keegan, Kevin Keane and Shane Scott, lads who have soldiered for years for their club and went through hard times before getting the ultimate reward last Sunday.
The game itself will probably only live long in the memories of two sets of people: the Westport players, management and supporters, and the defensive purists who like their football to be pragmatic and attritional.
I thought the game actually started quite well; both teams came out of the blocks with a fairly high tempo and looked to move the ball quickly with the boot a lot of the time.
There were some good early scores that suggested we were in for a cracker.
The likes of Mikey Murray, Evan Regan, Killian Kilkelly and Kevin Keane all kicked really good scores and it was shaping up to be a good game.
But it quickly became a war of attrition. A lot of the kick-outs went long, there was a huge amount of ball dropping in the middle third, and that led to a lot of collisions and physical contact in that area.
Both teams were defending well and both teams had plans in place for the respective talismen on both sides.
Lee Keegan and Padraig O’Hora probably had their most subdued games of the championship, neither were allowed to dictate to the extent they had in previous games. O’Hora got forward once or twice, but not with the same frequency as usual, and likewise with Keegan.
I thought the vast majority of the strong performers in the first half, with the notable exceptions of Evan Regan, Killian Kilkelly and Kevin Keane, were defenders.
That was fascinating in its own way, because we got to see lads like Brian McDermott and Luke Tunney and the Tighes for Ballina doing what they do best.
It’s worth mentioning that the scores that did arrive in the first half were absolutely outstanding; I’m thinking of points from Evan Regan, Sam Callinan and Conor McStay (who was exceptionally well-marshalled by McDermott) probably got the best of the lot.
But Ballina probably just deserved their half-time lead and could have been a bit further ahead because they looked a bit more dangerous.
The early stages of the second half served up more of the same.
But it was noticeable that Westport started to force the issue a bit after Evan Regan came back from the sin-bin. They started to commit more bodies forward and started to run harder at Ballina than they had all day.
Lads like Fionn McDonagh, Oisin McLaughlin (who was excellent) and Mark Moran started to get on more ball and create more openings, overlaps and chances.
One of those led to the penalty when Luke Tunney got forward, his shot was touched on the ground, and Killian Kilkelly Just beat David Clarke.
Westport were in control at that stage and winning most of the battles around the field.
But typical of Ballina they managed to create a chance that Padraig O’Hora put away and, again, you wondered who would hold their nerve with ten minutes to go.
Westport, to their credit, never panicked and stepped it up another level. A key moment after that goal, for me, was Oisin McLaughlin’s run for the free that Paddy O’Malley stroked over from 50 yards plus. McLaughlin’s penetrating run showed great leadership.
It was all Westport after that. Ballina were chasing and that left spaces for Westport’s ball-players to exploit.
Alan Kennedy has been a huge impact player all through the championship and he made a big impression again.
Not too many players hit their best form last Sunday, but the defenders on both sides deserve plenty of credit.
They put in some shift.
Brian McDermott was the best of them all, in my opinion.
Well done to Westport, congratulations to them, and hard luck to Ballina.

 

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