On a windswept afternoon in the Connacht Centre of Excellence in Ballyhaunis on Tuesday last Carrick-on-Shannon Community School successfully retained the Corn Breffni title but they had to withstand a Mark Plunkett inspired Ballinamore PPS in the second half in what was the ultimate game of two halves.
Leading by 10 points at the interval would normally suggest a team would be on course for victory but such were the conditions in Ballyhaunis that the only thing Carrick could be sure of was that the second half would see them under intense pressure.
The strength of the wind was best illustrated when a ball went over the perimeter fence early in the game and a spectator who was watching from the safety of his car took the wise decision to drive after the ball rather than getting out of the car to retrieve it!
Watching the teams during the warm-up it was evident that whoever had the winds at their back in the first half would have to try and build as big an advantage as possible as it was inevitable the roles would be reversed for the second half.
Although Carrick CS had the advantage of the wind, such was its strength it posed plenty of problems for both sides and the Carrick players were finding it difficult to convert some of the opportunities that came their way before they opened the scoring through Darragh Conlon in the fourth minute.
A minute later Carrick almost struck for the opening goal but Ballinamore had a let off as Niall Conlon’s well struck effort came back off the post. Ballinamore came agonisingly close to a goal of their own but Mark Plunkett’s well struck shot came back off the crossbar and when the rebound fell to Conor McGoldrick, keeper Brendan Flynn was on hand to make an excellent save.
From the resulting 45 a patient build-up saw Conor Gaffney strike for Ballinamore’s first point of the game and a minute later Peter Reynolds converted a free after a foul on Kevin McWeeney.
Having failed to make the wind advantage count, Carrick CS stepped up the pressure and Darragh Feely equalised and just after the midway point in the half Matthew McDermott pointed from a free to regain the lead.
The remainder of the half saw Carrick camped inside the Ballinamore half and the trouble experienced by Ballinamore keeper Daire McNiffe with his kickouts gave an illustration of just how strong the wind was.
With just 11 minutes of the half remaining Carrick made their pressure pay as they struck for the game’s opening goal. Some incisive passing between John Gannon and Cian Harmon opened up the Ballinamore defence and when fell to Darragh Feely, his shot was too good for Daire McNiffe.
Further points from John Gannon (four, two frees), Michael Murtagh and Matthew McDermott (free) gave Carrick CS a commanding 1-9 to 0-2 lead at the break but they would have been made well aware that the game was far from over.
Knowing the job was not yet done, Carrick started the second half very brightly but were unable to add to their lead and it wasn’t long before Ballinamore began to take control. Luke Murphy struck for the first point of the half seven minutes in and that was quickly followed by further impressive points from distance from Peter Reynolds and Mark Plunkett before Luke Murphy and Reynolds converted frees to leave just five points between the sides.
With the confidence growing amongst the Ballinamore players, the gap was further reduced. Two outstanding Plunkett scores, either side of Luke Murphy point, reduced the deficit to just two and with 11 minutes still remaining it was looking good from a Ballinamore PPS point of view.
Just when Carrick needed it most the wind took a break from howling around the astro turf pitch for a few minutes allowing them to launch a series of attacks on the Ballinamore goal. Two Conlon wides did nothing to settle the nerves of the Carrick players but when the hugely influential Gannon converted a free with six minutes remaining the momentum appeared to be back with Carrick.
A minute later the game seemed to be all but over as Matthew McDermott emphatically dispatched a left shot to the netl and the lead was stretched to seven points when Darragh Feely pointed with just two minutes left.
However, the game was not yet over and the wind making a dramatic return for the closing stages Ballinamore pressed hard to force their way into contention. With just a minute remaining a Mark Plunkett free, from about 50 metres and helped considerably by the wind flew over the head of the stranded Brendan Flynn and a minute later the impressive John Joe McGovern pointed to leave just a goal between the sides.
Ultimately Ballinamore’s bid to get back on level terms fell just short but they deserve great credit, as do the players from Carrick CS, for somehow managing to produce an entertaining game despite the dreadful conditions.
Brendan Flynn, Stephen McKeon, Mattie Mulvey, John Donohoe, Paul McGoldrick, Michael Murtagh (0-1), Niall Bambrick, Cian Harman, Niall Conlon, Enda Moreton, Darragh Conlon (0-1), Francis McNabola, Daragh Feely (1-2), John Gannon (0-5), Matthew McDermott (1-2). Subs: Joseph Sharkey for Moreton (37 mins), Eoin Gill for McGoldrick (44 mins), Enda Moreton for Conlon (58 mins).
Daire McNiffe, Brian Leyden, Gary Butler, Philip Dolan, Keelan McHugh, John Joe McGovern (0-1), Owen McPartland, Mark Plunkett (1-3), Kevin McWeeney, Conor Moran, Conor Gaffney (0-1), Conor McGoldrick, Luke Murphy (0-3), Peter Reynolds (0-3), Cathal O’Sullivan. Subs: Brian Deering for McPartland (20 mins).