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Absent friends blunt Ballina’s edge

Sport
Absent friends blunt Ballina’s edge

Merry Monk 93
Ballina
Abrakebabra Tigers 104
Tralee
(AOT)

CORMAC O’MALLEY
BALLINA

TRALEE Tigers are beginning to become something of a bogey team for Merry Monk Ballina. Following last month’s defeat in the quarter-final of the National Cup to the Kerry side, Merry Monk again fell short on Saturday night last in Ballina.
The result could have been very different, however, had the home side not had the misfortune of losing the irrepressible Robert Taylor at the very beginning of the final quarter due to foul trouble. At that point Team Merry Monk held a commanding 10-point advantage, built up largely thanks to the American’s brilliant shooting, which had seen him amass an outstanding 29 points in those opening three quarters.
Then, just moments into overtime, Merry Monk were deprived of the services of shooter Chris Smith, whose last-gasp equalising basket had dragged the two teams into the extra period of play. Without the services of the team’s two top scorers, Merry Monk could not withstand the Tralee barrage and eventually the away side eased to an 11-point win that they scarcely deserved.
The recent cup clash between the two teams had had the added spice of the Ronan McGarrity versus Kieran Donaghy sub-plot. But with both players on opposite sides of the world enjoying a mid-winter break, that particular rivalry was diffused this time around. One would have to acknowledge though that it was Ballina who were the harder hit by their man’s absence, given the superb form McGarrity has been in of late. This was recognised when the dual star was announced as the Northern Conference Player of the Month for December before the game.
Despite the Mayo midfielder’s absence, Merry Monk began brightly and the opening exchanges promised a tense, tight evening’s play. But Tralee created some daylight between the sides towards the end of the opening period. In fact, it took a three-pointer from guard Scott Kinevane to close the gap to 21-26 at the buzzer.
The second quarter belonged to Merry Monk though, and in the main to the elegant skills of Robert Taylor, who finished with 16 points for the quarter. Dave Fanning put Tralee eight points clear at the start of the period but a Taylor-inspired Ballina were soon rampant.
A feature of Merry Monk’s play throughout was their superior long-range shooting, and they outscored their opponents on that count by 11 to four. Three of those outside baskets came in the second period, helping Merry Monk accumulate 28 points and sending them into the interval 49-41 in front. Ballina dominated the rebounding at both ends of the court, and Tralee had no answer to the swift and potent counter-attacking of the Mayo side.
Tralee entered the arena for the second half determined to claw back the deficit as quickly as possible. After a cagey opening couple of minutes, veteran John Teehan and James Mooney reduced the lead to five points. Teehan landed another basket minutes later, but that was sandwiched between great three-pointers from Merry Monk captain Jay Marriott.
When Kinevane set up Smith for a basket, the lead was stretched to 11 points. Tralee threw everything they had at the home team in the closing minutes of the half, but at all times Ballina maintained a lead of at least four points. A burst of scores from Marriott, Taylor and Paul Freeman in the remaining seconds ensured Merry Monk began the final period ahead by 71-61.
Confidence was high among the home supporters and players going into the final quarter that they would gain a measure of revenge against the Southern Conference table-toppers for their cup demise.
Even members of the Tralee backroom team were adamant that their side had little hope of victory with Taylor in such scintillating form. However, when Taylor innocuously collided with Mooney when orchestrating Ballina’s first attack of the quarter, the referee called a foul and Taylor was out of the game.
The balance of the tie now seemed to rest in Tralee’s favour. But Merry Monk refused to be daunted by the setback and with less than eight minutes remaining they had surged into a 15-point lead.
However, Tralee began to show their grit and they disrupted Ballina’s flow and hit 11 unanswered points to drastically cut the arrears. Three points from Marriott interrupted the comeback but the respite was only temporary and Teehan, Fanning and Mooney had the sides level with two minutes left.
Smith edged Ballina ahead again but a three from Mooney put Tralee in front for the first time since the second quarter. Just when it looked all over, Kinevane hit a three-pointer of his own with a minute left. But that looked to be in vain as Wilder Auguste and Teehan reclaimed the lead for Tralee in a nerve-wracking, pulsating finale.
But again Ballina showed their mettle and with two seconds left on the clock, Smith coolly tied the scoring 89-89, and sent the game into overtime.
Four points from Smith either side of a basket from Auguste left Ballina in a comfortable position at the beginning of the final period. But Smith’s expulsion left Merry Monk light on scoring inside forwards and Tralee took advantage to ease clear and triumph by 11 points.

MERRY MONK BALLINA
R Taylor 29, C Smith 21, J Marriott 19, S Kinevane 17, P Freeman 5, D Marsh 2, D McGarrity, B O’Malley
TRALEE TIGERS
W Auguste 30, D Fanning 25, J Mooney 24, J Teehan 16, M Quirke 9, L Culloty, A Holden, T Collins.

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