AS Ballintubber supporters prepared to greet a famous victory, your scribe had turned his thoughts to a lament for another broken Ballaghaderreen dream. Once more they had come to McHale Park as favourites. Once more they had misjudged the opposition. Crestfallen, their small band of followers huddled in disbelief on the terrace.
Two minutes into injury time, the visitors from the east embarked on what looked like another unproductive incursion into Ballintubber territory. There was more than a touch of desperation in Barry Kelly’s charge down the right wing. The midfielder had blown a chance of a goal minutes earlier when a certain point might have been more advisable. In this last-gasp effort, he must have prayed for some morsel of redemption from another fruitless campaign. In a rare miscalculation, the Ballintubber defence was wrong-footed by the swirling ball from Kelly. Andy Moran, quiet all afternoon by his own standards, seized on the chance, buried the ball in the net, and stole the lead for the first time.
Suddenly the emotional tumult had swung to Ballintubber. Seconds away from smothering their players in admiration, their supporters were now faced with heartless defeat. Could fate have been so cruel to deny their valour the result it deserved? It is a measure of their composure that they were able to hold their heads ... when all around them were losing theirs.
The sight of Ruaidhrí O’Connor charging up the left wing, crossing to the centre and being fouled checked, momentarily, their falling curtain of despair. And Alan Dillon restored some balance to their churning emotions when he slotted over the equaliser in the last seconds of injury time.
It brought an end to one of the best matches of the year. No effort was spared by either side. From somewhere deep inside their psyche, Ballaghaderreen found the courage to fight on when all seemed lost. Ballintubber resisted magnificently. Their defence cannot be faulted for conceding the last minute goal. It came from the full force of Ballaghaderreen’s want, and the desperation to escape from the clutches of another miserable afternoon in MacHale Park. It was then Ballintubber’s turn to wriggle. And the manner in which they got off the hook is an indication of their mental toughness and the belief they hold in their own ability.
It was great stuff, and the first surprise was sprung by the Ballaghaderreen mentors when they unveiled Pearce Hanley as a sub before the game. It was not long until the services of the man from AFL club Brisbane Lions were required. It took him time to re-adjust. There were moments when he might have been in the thick of the action in Brisbane ... when a big catch was followed by a few steps backwards in anticipation of a free kick, or when he kicked as if it were an oval ball. But in the second half when he got back the feel of his native game, Hanley brought muscle and flair to Ballaghaderreen’s midfield . Watching him spread his influence left you regretting his loss to Mayo football, and the need for some action to counter the haemorrhage of Gaelic stars to the AFL.
Hanley was essential to Ballaghaderreen’s recovery. But the performances of Stephen Drake and Thomas Regan in defence, of Barry Kelly at midfield and Barry Regan in the forward line contributed to a recovery on which they might yet look back as being the foundation on which their championship challenge was firmly established.
John O’Mahony ought now to have Barry Regan included on his list of potential full-forwards. And he should also stroke in the names of Micheál Hoban and Jason Gibbons of Ballintubber as county midfielders with bright possibilities.
With the return of James and David Kilcullen to the side after suspension, Ballaghaderreen will fancy their chances in the replay. But Ballintubber have nothing to prove in the line of courage or ability.
Ginger leads the way again
CASTLEBAR Mitchels made their exit from the championship by a single point to favourites Charlestown. The quarter-final was about as much as Peter Ford, Henry Gavin and Tommy O’Malley could have hoped for.
Rehabilitation is painful, but senior football in the county town had plunged to such depths of despondency that the championship quarter-finals and a good league run can be regarded as a big step on the road to recovery.
Castlebar may cavil about Charlestown’s goal. And they have every right to since Ollie Conway was standing almost under the crossbar waiting to punch the dropping ball to the net. That apart, Charlestown were the better side. And in David Tiernan, they had the leader that Castlebar lacked. Tiernan stood between the Mitchels and victory when the sides were level during the final quarter, whether intervening in defence to extinguish incipient danger, or scoring a magnificent point as a lesson to would-be wasters.
Ginger’s days with Mayo football are over. But how the county could do with a leader of his ability. Without him Charlestown look hesitant and insecure. They have Tom Parsons of course, and clever forwards in Richard Haran, Paul and Tony Mulligan, Ollie Conway and Mark Caffrey.
But it is Ginger that welds them into a smooth-running entity. He is their think-tank, their exemplar. With him Charlestown will present plenty of problems for any side.
Meanwhile, Crossmolina did the business ... however unimpressively. Like Charlestown, they, too, always had the edge on Breaffy. But they were uncomfortably close in the end, only three points separating them. And if Breaffy had not squandered some good chances in the final quarter who knows how it might have turned out.
Crossmolina will argue that they had the power to put the game away whenever danger threatened. And the performances of Peadar Gardiner, Ciaran McDonald and that rare species of evergreen, James Nallen, were sufficient assurance to the sceptics. They played as well as they needed to.
But without their minor star Aiden O’Shea, Breaffy made a game of it. And when it gets to one score making the difference as they enter the final minutes no one, not even Crosmolina, are immune to a late sucker punch.
The second half made up somewhat for the listless nature of the opening 30 minutes. But the game never took fire. Alan Durcan looked sharp in the forward line and, although uncharacteristically inaccurate, Marty McNicholas brought more punch to the attack when moved to the half line. Barry Jordan was a pillar of the defence and Seamus O’Shea and Tommy Canavan won a fair share of the midfield exchanges. But doubt about Crossmolina losing was never entertained.