Worth the wait for Ballina
GAA: FBD Insurance County Under 21 ‘B’ Football Final 2020
Report: Thomas Conway in Dolla
Man of the Match: Jack O’Mahoney (Ballina)
SCORERS – Ballina: Jack O’Mahoney 1-1; Finn Looney 0-3 frees; Eoghan Power, Matthew Power (frees) 0-2 each; Sam Loughran, Kian Donnelly 0-1 each.
Upperchurch/Drombane: Keith Ryan 1-2; Luke Shanahan 0-4 frees; Aaron Ryan, Darragh Bourke 0-1 each.
The latest instalment of the delayed 2020 finals calendar produced a pulsating contest last Saturday, as Ballina dug deep to eventually land the County Under 21 ‘B’ football title, following a nail-biting climax in Dolla.
A 54th minute goal from the boot of Jack O’Mahoney appeared to have set Ballina on a clear path to victory, but the home straight had plenty of twists and turns as Upperchurch rallied to come within whiskers of forcing the game to extra-time, or perhaps even winning it outright.
It was a suitably exciting finish to a game which delivered a near perfect mix of counter-attacking football and bruising physical battles - reflective of its competitive nature. Wing-forward Luke Shanahan got Upperchurch off the mark within the first minute, sweeping over a well-struck free from out towards the side-line.
It took Ballina some moments to respond, but they did so through a superbly worked Sam Loughran score, with Finn Looney biding his time in possession before unleashing Eoghan Power, who offloaded to Loughran who completed the move in style, jinking inside and curling a right-footer between the posts.
Ballina’s strategy of isolating Looney and O’Mahoney in a two-man full-forward line produced mixed results in those early stages, and it was Upperchurch which were more prolific in that first quarter, adding further points via Aaron and Keith Ryan, as Oisín Treacy roved out the field and acted as the engine behind many of their attacks.
Eoghan Power, O’Mahoney, and Looney would later increase the Ballina points tally, but seconds after Looney had pushed them ahead for the first time, a critical moment arrived. Midfielder Keith Ryan had looked dangerous throughout, and it was his 26th minute goal - a sweetly struck rocket past Oisín Conacur - which turned the momentum in favour of the mid-Tipperary side, giving them a one-point advantage at half-time, 1-3 to 0-5.
Upperchurch seemed to disappear from view after half-time, allowing Ballina to command much of possession and convert it to scores on several occasions. Kian Donnelly added an extra flair to their attack, featuring in the play whenever the ball entered the danger-zone, while points from Matthew Power and the unrelated Eoghan Power gave Ballina further impetus.
On 43 minutes it could well have been game over, only for Upperchurch keeper James Griffin to pull off an outstanding save, deflecting the latter Power’s effort away with his legs, and maintaining the scoreline at 0-8 to 1-4.
Eventually the goal did come, Jack O’Mahoney the source, drilling a low effort straight past Griffin - a powerful shot propelled by his own momentum, following a surge towards goal.
Any reasonable spectator had probably concluded that Ballina were home and hosed at that stage, but the final ten minutes saw events turn completely, as Keith Ryan, Conor Fahey, and Shanahan led a brave late charge which very nearly culminated in an equaliser at the death. They pared down the Ballina lead with points, while Fahey came within inches of clinching his side’s second goal in the 58th minute, angling a shot across the face of goal only to see it fly past the wrong side of the far post.
Upperchurch had the chance to level it, but pressure trumped composure and the shot was sent wide, leaving Ballina to race up the field and cap off their county-title with a final free, having finally escaped to victory.
TEAMS – Ballina: Oisín Conacur (7); Josh Egan (8), James Hanly (7), Dara King (7); Conor Bourke (7), Michael Grace (8), Conor Power (7); George Kealy (7), Sam Loughran (8); Robbie Breen (7), Eoghan Power (8, capt), David Grace (7); Matthew Power (7), Jack O’Mahoney (8), Finn Looney (8).
Subs: Kian Donnelly (8) for Grace (HT), Harry Byrne (7) for Looney (37 inj), Cathal O’Donnell (7) for Bourke (44 inj), Corey Ryan (7) for King (49 inj), Braoin Cleary (NR) for Egan (60+5).
Upperchurch/Drombane: James Griffin (8), Patrick Clancy (7), Denis Ryan (7), Joseph Burke (7), AJ Shanahan (7), Pat Ryan (8), Aaron Ryan (7), Keith Ryan (8), Michael Lavery (8), Eanna Ryan (NR), Conor Fahey (8), Luke Shanahan (7), Oisín Treacy (8), Patrick Purcell (7), Darragh Bourke (7).
Sub: Patrick Burke (7) for E Ryan (11 inj).
Referee: David Grogan (Aherlow).