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Gardiner saves champions

Crossmolina’s Damien Mulligan uses his initiative to stop Ballaghaderreen’s Andy Hanley during Sunday’s Mayo SFC Final at McHale Park, Castlebar
THE HOLDING ROLE Crossmolina’s Damien Mulligan uses his initiative to stop Ballaghaderreen’s Andy Hanley during Sunday’s Mayo SFC Final at McHale Park, Castlebar.

Gardiner saves champions


Crossmolina 2-8

Mike Finnerty


WE came last Sunday hoping to see a fitting end to an eventful Mayo Senior Football Championship campaign and we left calling for an encore after a dramatic, enthralling and utterly compelling Final at McHale Park.
After this rain-soaked struggle it seemed appropriate that nobody went home contemplating defeat. That would have denied us a chance to see how the third instalment of this burgeoning rivalry plays itself out next Sunday at the same venue.
In truth, Ballaghaderreen will reflect on this Final as ‘the one that away’. Frank Kelly, John O’Mahony, Pat O’Grady and Noel Durkin produced their team in fine fettle, and the youngest senior squad in the county took care of their part of the bargain with some style.
Their herculean effort had left them in control of their own destiny three minutes into injury-time. The outstanding Barry Regan clipped over a free (his fifth of the match) to ease Ballagh’ into a 1-11 to 1-8 lead with the clock ticking down.
They had an extra man on the field – following the second half dismissal of Crossmolina sub’ Henry McLoughlin – and were throwing the ball around with confidence and panache despite the wind and incessant rain. Their coronation seemed inevitable.
But Crossmolina have not won five Moclair Cups in eleven years without learning a few tricks along the way. The way they conjured up their equalising goal will guarantee them a place in Mayo GAA folklore regardless of the result of the replay.
When Brian Benson was grounded 30m out, Mel Kenny signalled a free in. Ciaran McDonald took the football in his hand and pondered his options. Ballagh’ had 13 men between the ball and the goal-line.
Over four minutes had elasped in injury-time when McDonald unleashed a pile-driver which flew through a sea of bodies, was deflected by the hand of Peadar Gardiner, and ricocheted into the top right-hand corner of the net.
A goal. An equaliser. Game over. A draw.
It was an incredible finish to a match that kept the drenched crowd of 5,736 people entertained from start to finish. Ballagh’ had made most of the running, embraced the club’s first finale in 21 years with abandon, and almost pulled off an audacious victory.
But Crossmolina deserved their second chance. When all seemed lost, Peadar Gardiner, their inspirational captain, James Nallen, Ciaran McDonald, Stephen Rochford and Joe Keane kept probing and pushing. And it paid off in the end.
The game started as it meant to continue; in a flurry of activity. Derek Moran, who went on to be named ‘Man of the Match’, smacked over a huge point in the second minute before his cousin Andy grabbed the game’s first goal four minutes later.
It came when Barry Regan picked out his colleague in the inside line with a pin-point crossfield pass, and Moran finished clinically past Paul O’Donnell.
Ahead by 1-1 to 0-0, Ballagh’ looked comfortable in their surroundings. But Crossmolina got down to business smartly and Ciaran McDonald (free), Joe Keane and Brian Benson all reeled off points in the 11th, 12th and 14th minutes.
Stephen Drake, who kept Ciaran McDonald’s influence to the minimum, then struck an inspirational point from 55 metres which was cancelled out by a clever score by Joe Keane after a mazy run. That was to be Crossmolina’s last flag of the half.
Barry Kelly and James Kilcullen took complete control at midfield with Drake, David Kilcullen and Gary Conway providing a formidable platform behind them. The end result were three sublime long-range scores from Derek Moran, Michael Solan and Barry Regan that left Ballagh’ in front by 1-5 to 0-4 at half-time.
Their advantage was increased just after the restart when the indefatigable Barry Regan landed a neat point from a free and Crossmolina found themselves in dire straits.
But, as it their wont, they came roaring back into contention. The champion’s second goal was conceived from nothing; Stephen Rochford scooping up a loose ball after a mis-cued kick-out, and feeding a perceptive pass to Joe Keane that was drilled past Ollie Flanagan from close range. It was 1-6 to 1-4. Game on.
The teams then traded points four times during the next 20 minutes; Derek Moran (2) and Barry Regan (2 frees) swopping scores with Ciaran McDonald (4 frees). When the dust settled, Ballagh’ led by 1-10 to 1-8 as the match ticked into injury-time and the result still hung in the balance.
However, in the midst of this scoring burst, Mel Kenny showed a red card to Crossmolina sub’ Henry McLoughlin, reducing the Deel Rovers to fourteen men as a consequence. The fact that Ballagh’ enjoyed a cushion, and a numerical advantage, meant they looked the likely winners as the minutes ticked away.
That impression was underlined in the 63rd minute when the unflappable Barry Regan curled over yet another free to ease the rank outsiders three clear. A first Moclair Cup since 1972 was within touching distance.
But it was not to be. Not yet anyway. Crossmolina’s last stand saw McDonald and Gardiner conjure up a moment of magic that was a fitting signature score to an epic final. That’s twice now they have finished level this Summer. Who will be third time lucky?

Barry Regan
ON a day when the rain fell in sheets and there were some exquisite points kicked, the top scorer in the Mayo SFC landed five crucial, brilliant frees. Showed nerves of steel and ran himself into the ground too.

O Flanagan; J McCann, D McGarry, T Regan; S Drake (0-1), D Kilcullen, G Conway; B Kelly, J Kilcullen; A Hanley, J Dillon, D Moran (0-4); A Moran (1-0), B Regan (0-5, 4fs), M Solan (0-1). Subs used: P Hanley for A Hanley; D Loftus for D McGarry; B Solan for D Loftus; M O’Gara for J Dillon.
P O’Donnell; R Rochford, D Syron, J O’Boyle; D Keating, D Mulligan, P Gardiner (1-0); J Nallen, G Walsh; P McGuinness, C McDonald (0-5, 5fs), M Leonard; S Rochford, J Keane (1-2), B Benson (0-1). Subs used: H McLoughlin for G Walsh; E Lavelle for M Leonard.

Referee: M Kenny (Westport)

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