Junior A Football Championship Final
By Kieran Murphy
BALLON are the 2017 Carlow Junior A football champions. In Netwatch Cullen Park last Wednesday evening they found goals that little bit easier to come by and when Fenagh hit them with everything they had, the eventual winners were able to respond.
In the end, no-one could dispute that Ballon were comfortable and deserving winners.
It didn’t look that way in the opening 10 minutes as Gary Dillon, Frankie Dowling and James Kinsella all pointed.
Eight minutes in Ballon got off the mark as Michael O’Leary knocked over a free but James Kinsella replied with a free of his own and followed up almost immediately with a sweet point on the left which brought an almighty cheer from Fenagh supporters in the stand.
There only looked to be one winner at this stage. Ballon were out of touch. At one point O’Leary was awarded a free on the 45m line. Spotting an unmarked forward in front of goal he looked set to deliver the pass but a colleague unwittingly stepped in front of him and the free taker had to regather himself.
Minutes later the same player did reduce the margin with a free and Alan Kelly announced his arrival for Ballon with a neat point on 22 minutes.
Despite their domination Fenagh only led by two points. Ballon were in the game and took the lead when an exchange of passes found Alan Kelly unmarked at the far post. He cleverly guided the ball home and while there was a hint of a square ball, referee Brian Deering consulted with his umpires who were happy to let the goal stand.
Three minutes on Ballon were surely pinching themselves when their goalkeeper, Colm Barry, came forward to take a 45. He got plenty on the ball but his effort skewed towards the goal at less than head high. In a mass of bodies the ball took a deflection and flew over Pat Hughes’ head and into the net. As Barry made his way back to his own posts his demeanour changed from disappointment to elation.
Fenagh couldn’t say they hadn’t foreseen what was coming. That 45 had been awarded when Kelly hit the post from close range and a defender was happy to steer the ball out of his path when a goal looked certain.
Despite the two concessions, Fenagh upped the ante with four points on the trot to narrow the Ballon lead to 2-4 to 0-9 at the break.
One minute into the second half Kinsella hit the upright when it looked as if he had drawn the sides level. A minute later Liam Brennan extended the Ballon lead when popping over. In hindsight, that was vital. A two-point turnaround.
Minutes later Lar O’Sullivan came forward and found himself in possession 20 metres from goal. It was hard to know whether he miscued his shot or it was intentional. In any case, with Pat Hughes just marginally off his line, O’Sullivan’s deft stroke saw the keeper beaten all ends up. It was a goal any top-class striker would have been proud of. Alan Kelly and O’Leary followed up with points and now the eventual winners were seven clear.
Fenagh heads didn’t exactly drop, but they were left reeling . On the other hand Ballon were full of confidence.
The final 20 minutes was a dogged affair. Ballon seemed happy to hold what they had. With many players who featured in Ballinkillen’s disappointing senior hurling semi-final defeat three days earlier, there was a sluggishness about Fenagh’s play. Ballon coped well with the direct running of Sean Murphy. Ultimately their experience told as they displayed an ability to eke out a win.
For Fenagh, this was a crushing disappointment. A set-back but they will be aware what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger. They will be back.
Ballon: Colm Barry (1-0, 45); John Brennan, Shane Byrne, Ryan Hollick; Dan O’Connor, John Gittens, Lar O’Sullivan (1-0); Glen Pullen, Paddy Byrne; Thomas Murphy, Frank Fanning, Liam Brennan (0-1); David Wilson, Alan Kelly (1-5, 0-4 frees), Michael O’Leary (0-4, 0-3 frees). Subs: Jim Nolan for P Byrne (15 mins), Joe Holden for Wilson (32 mins), Adam Feeney for Murphy (33 mins).
Fenagh: Pat Hughes; John Hughes, Micheál Ryan, Jack O’Connor; Jamie Wall, James Nolan, Tommy Bric; Sean Murphy, Dion Wall; Gary Dillon (0-3, 0-2 frees), Darren Dalton, Tomás Kinsella; Eoin McDonagh (0-2), James Kinsella (0-6, 0-2 frees), Frankie Dowling (0-1). Subs: Craig Wall (0-2) for D. Wall (h/t), Michael Murphy for Dalton (49 mins), Aidan Murphy for Kinsella (49 mins), Damien O’Neill for Dillon (55 mins).
Referee: Brian Deering (Rathvilly)