More than pride will be at stake on Friday evening next (September 7) when Kiltubrid and Ballinamore Sean O’Heslin’s meet for the second time in this year’s Connacht Gold Senior Championship, but this time the prize at stake is avoiding relegation.
The match was due to take place on the weekend after next but after agreement between the two clubs invovled, the Relegation Final will go ahead on Friday under lights in Cloone with an 8.00 throw-in.
What makes the drama all the greater, if the drama of avoiding a drop to the Intermediate Championship isn’t enough, is that this will be the first time that two clubs who have already faced each other in the championship will meet in a relegation final, the new format of the championship allowing for such a scenario.
Under the previous group system, only one team per group went into the relegation series but now, with the possibility of one group supplying two teams to the relegation battle, it has come to pass and adds to the drama of the occasion.
In the Group game between the sides, Ballinamore went in as favourites and seemed to be living up to that early billing as they led 0-7 to 0-4 at the break. But a fantastic Kiltubrid surge just after halftime propelled them into a three point lead, courtesy of a Dara McKiernan’s penalty.
An epic struggle followed but Kiltubrid were probably worth far more than their eventual three point winning margin.
The defeat has devastating consequences for an O’Heslin’s team who looked odds on to reach the quarter-finals but seem to lack belief when they were easily seen off in the Relegation Semi-Final by Carrigallen, 1-12 to 0-10, and regaining self-confidence looks to be the hardest task for a team that is struggling to come to terms with their situation.
Kiltubrid, on the other hand, have had a tougher yet more encouraging path to the relegation playoff - heavily defeated by Mohill in the Quarter-Final playoff, Kiltubrid were desperately unlucky to lose out by a point to Drumreilly where a penalty turned out to be the game changer.
Kiltubrid seem better prepared mentally for the the relegation dog-fight but that will mean nothing once the ball is thrown in and Kiltubrid only need look at their own history some years ago when they were hammered in a relegation semi-final but completely turned the tables in the final to save their senior status.
Much of it will come down to attitude - there is plenty of motivation for both teams, Kiltubrid to prove their group stage win was no fluke, Ballinamore to gain a measure of revenge. But mainly it will come down to the team who will be less paralysed by fear, the team who can perform when the pressure is on.
At the moment that looks like Kiltubrid but there could be a kick in Ballinamore yet and that uncertainity is what makes Friday’s game in Cloone so exciting for neutrals.