Shocks have been few and far between in this year’s Connacht Gold Senior Championship but last Saturday in Cloone, Kiltubrid provided the shock of the competition so far to dump a disbelieving Ballinamore Sean O’Heslin’s out of the championship.
Ballinamore were in pole position to qualify from the group after a morale boosting draw just a week earlier against Annaduff. And at halftime, they looked on their way to the quarter-finals as they led by three points and looked sharper and more focused than their rivals.
But Kiltubrid came out a transformed team after the halftime break, whatever was said in the dressing room must have been powerful stuff as Kiltubrid cut through the Ballinamore defence like a knife through butter, three quick fire points wiping out the O’Heslin’s lead.
And when Dara McKiernan slotted home a penalty, Ballinamore were simply shell-shocked as their world was turned upside down.
The remainder of the contest was a struggle of epic proportions, if not accuracy, as Ballinamore desperately tried to get a foot-hold back in the game only to shoot a litany of wides. Indeed, Shane McWeeney’s 12th minute point was their solitary score of the half as an increasing sense of disbelief seemed to grip Ballinamore.
For Kiltubrid, it was an amazing turn-around built on intelligent forward play and defiant defending – Dara McKiernan, Niall Foley and James Gill offer a great outlet in attack with McKiernan always dangerous while in defence, Emmet Lee and Aidan Bohan led a unit that threw themselves at everything, making vital blocks and disrupting a Ballinamore attack that had looked dangerous.
Their victory was fully deserved and if they are not quite the force they were some years ago, nobody will be too eager to face them in the quarter-finals on the strength of this display.
A shell-shocked Ballinamore didn’t know what to say after the final whistle as their quarter-final dreams turned to the ashes of a relegation dog-fight. The absence of Wayne McKeon seriously holed their campaign as in all their games, they lacked a player who could grab the contest by the scruff of the neck and drive his team on.
That is not to say that Ballinamore didn’t have strong performances, youngsters James & Shane McWeeney, David McLoughlin and veteran Liam Ferguson couldn’t be faulted but O’Heslin’s needed everyone at their best and Saturday was easily their worst display of the campaign.
Both teams were quickly on the board with a James McWeeney free cancelled by a great Aidan Bohan score. Both sides missed chances, poor handling costing Kiltubrid a goal chance before Shane McWeeney (free) & Paddy Whitlow swapped points.
A three point burst from Ballinamore, Shane McWeeney (2) and James McWeeney, edged them three clear by the 21st minute with Dara McKiernan replying with a lovely snap shot. Micheal Earley closed the gap further but a monster 50 yard effort from Shane Moran and a lovely James McWeeney point on the run left Ballinamore 0-7 to 0-4 in front at the break.
O’Heslin’s seemed to have the upper hand but the first eight minutes of the second half witnessed an extraordinary transformation – Dara McKiernan scored two wonderful points before Niall Foley floated a lovely effort over the bar to equalise after five minutes.
Kiltubrid had a goal chance only for sub Stephen Guckian to shoot straight at Philip Farrelly but the Ballinamore keeper was caught after eight minutes when Kiltubrid created an overlap and Dara McKiernan’s shot was foot-block, McKiernan dispatching the penalty with some ease.
A shell-shocked Ballinamore responded with a great Shane McWeeney free but it was to be their last score of the game. With Kiltubrid flooding back and holding firm, O’Heslin’s started to see their chances shrivel up as Kiltubrid grew in confidence.
Indeed, in the final five minutes, Kiltubrid started to create more and more chances but weren’t taking them and Kiltubrid made sure of the victory when Noel Gill converted a fifty over a minute into added time to complete a famous day for the winners.
Noel Gill, John McGovern, Emmet Lee, Eamon Geoghegan, Stephen McKeon, Dermot McKeon, Aidan Bohan (0-1), Karol Scollan, Patrick Moolick, Fergal Meehan, Niall Foley (0-1), Micheal Earley (0-1), Paddy Whitlow (0-1), Dara McKiernan (1-3), James Gill. Subs: Stephen Guckian for S. McKeon (HT), Christopher McKeon for Whitlow (54 mins).
Ballinamore Sean O’Heslin’s
Philip Farrelly, Matthew Murphy, Patrick McLoughlin, Philip Murphy, David McLoughlin, Liam Ferguson, David Duignan, Conor McTague, Paul McLoughlin, Shane Moran (0-1), Shane Murphy, Stephen McTague, Anthony McTague, James McWeeney (0-3), Shane McWeeney (0-4). Subs: John Fanning for A. McTague (35 mins), Sean Murray for S. Murphy (41 mins), Johnny McWeeney for Paul McLoughlin (52 mins).
Referee: Frank Flynn.