Ballina’s Jack Collins gets away from Killenaule’s John O’Dwyer.

Ballina sunk by Bubbles inspired Killenaule

GAA: FBD Insurance County Premier Intermediate Hurling Championship Group 3

Killenaule 3-21

Ballina 3-13

Report: Thomas Conway in Borrisoleigh

Ballina face an uphill task to make the knockout stages of the County Premier Intermediate Hurling Championship after succumbing to an impressive Killenaule on Saturday.

From a Ballina perspective, this defeat will sting. It leaves them in an invidious position. Just a single point from two games, bottom of Group 3 with slim hopes of progression and a potential relegation battle looming on the horizon. They might have fought Thurles Sarsfields to a stalemate but there was to be no last-minute drama here.

Killenaule were long gone, out the gap with two points in the bag, off to prepare for their final group-stage outing with one eye already on a quarter-final.

Led by the talismanic John O’Dwyer, they stormed Ballina with pace, power, skill and style. Their passing was slick and effective, their shooting sharp and accurate. They looked like a team high on confidence, which was surprising, given their opening day loss to Gortnahoe-Glengoole.

Killenaule only led by six points at half-time, 2-12 to 1-9, but in reality the gulf seemed far wider. The vast majority of Ballina’s scores came from Michael Breen, who delivered an almost Herculean performance, contributing 2-11, considering the overall degree of pressure which his side were under. But it wasn’t enough. Far from it.

At the other end, John O’Dwyer seemed to recapture the form which he once displayed in a Tipperary jersey, finishing with a tally of 1-15, 1-3 from play, and punishing Ballina with innumerable well-taken frees.

The early exchanges might have been competitive, Mark Stakelum trading points with James Hanley while O’Dwyer and Breen landed frees, but once Bubbles swooped to slot Killenaule’s first goal, in the thirteenth, there was a sense that this game was headed in the south side’s direction.

Ballina, to their credit, produced a response, Jack Collins finding the net within seconds of Bubbles, but Killenaule were on top - to suggest anything otherwise would be misleading.

Approaching the interval, the game was still there for the North side, they were still within touching distance, but as soon as Joe O’Dwyer struck to land Killenaule’s second goal in the 32nd minute, all confidence sapped from Ballina in an instant.

The South club pushed ahead further after the break, responding to an early Michael Breen goal via Bubbles’ laser-like free-taking. Tom Stakelum clinched their third and final goal in the 47th minute, and really and truly, that was that.

It must be said - Breen’s leadership was hugely impressive, and the return of Steven O’Brien will at least boost Ballina morale ahead of their final group game against Gortnahoe where they need a win plus some help to qualify. Ultimately, however, this was a poor collective showing from the North side.

In Killenaule, they were fighting a wounded beast. Their first-round loss to Gortnahoe was not on the cards. Evidently, they learned lessons from it, and last Saturday, they bounced back stronger.

Player of the Match: John O’Dwyer (Killenaule)

Killenaule: Joe Caesar (7), Jack Hassett (7), Tom Keaveney (7), Jimmy Feehan (7), Ciaran O’Dwyer (0-2, 8), Paudie Feehan (8), Killian O’Dwyer (7), Tom Stakelum (1-0, 8), Eoin O’Connell (0-1, 7), Darragh Fitzgerald (7), Joe O’Dwyer (1-2, 8), Dean O’Connor (7), Eoin Shaw (7), John O’Dwyer (1-15, 0-11f, 0-1 65) 9), Michael Doyle (7).

Sub: Mark Stakelum (0-2, 7) for Shaw (47).

Ballina: Martin McKeogh (6), Conor Power (6), Josh Egan (6), Diarmuid Whelan (6), Jack Collins (1-1, 7), James Hanley (0-1, 7), Sam Loughran (6), David Grace (6), David Kelly (NR), Conor Maguire (6), Michael Breen (2-11, 2-7f, 0-1 s-cut) 8), Ben King (6), Paddy O’Donovan (6), Donie Whelan (6), Cathal O’Donnell (6).

Subs: Terry O’Halloran (6) for Kelly (7 inj); Kian Donnelly (6) for O’Halloran (32); Steven O’Brien (7) for King (41); Matthew Power (7) for O’Donnell (41); Corey Ryan (6) for Maguire (54).

Referee: Seán Everard (Moyne-Templetuohy)