The Ballintubber juggernaut roles on into the semi-finals of the Mayo Senior Football Championship after the defending champions had nine points to spare over Ballina Stephenites at the end of an intriguing encounter in MacHale Park on Sunday afternoon.
The champions were deserving winners, but there were enough chinks exposed over the 60 minutes to give those who’ll stand in their way in a few weeks time, plenty to think about as they plot take down the boys from the ‘Tubber.
Both sides were missing inter-county men with Alan Dillon not lining out for the ‘Tubber and Ger Cafferkey unavailable for the north Mayo men. While Dillon’s loss for his side was a big blow, the Stephenites really could have done with the experience of an established star like Caffereky on the field.
The consensus before the game was that Ballintubber would have to much for a Stephinites side who haven’t been the force they were in the past in recent years and they’d have to nick a couple of goals if they were to stand a chance in this game. Trailing by three points just before the break, Ballina did get a sniff of a goal when Brendan O’Hora got in behind the cover and he looked like he was in one on one with Brendan Walsh in the Ballintubber goal, but he was dragged down by Gary Loftus who took a black card for his team and halted the scoring chance. Evan Regan did convert the resulting free kick to leave Ballintubber leading by 0-7 to 0-5 at the turn around.
Ballintubber had plenty of the ball in the first half and could have had a few goals of their own with Diarmuid O’Connor cracking one stinging effort off the post after ten minutes and Myles Kelly having another smothered by the Ballina rearguard seven minutes later. After 24 minutes they led the gam on a score of 0-7 to 0-2 with Cillian O’Connor, Damien McGing (twice ), Diramuid O’Connor, Stephen Finnerty, Alan Plunkett and Jason Gibbons all scoring.
Ballina’s response came from a Mikey Murray pointed free and one from Evan Regan. The north Mayo men had the best of the closing stages of the half reeling off three points on the bounce, with Regan chipping in with two more and Levi Tierney adding the other.
Damien Coleman and Murray swapped points early in the second half, before scores from Cillian O’Connor and Bryan Walsh stretched out the Ballintubber lead to four points, Ballina were hanging on in there and would not go away that easy. With 18 minutes gone in the half, the goal chance that Ballina craved arrived. A long ball down the stand side was let bounce over his head by Regan into the path of the onrushing David O’Mahony. The Ballina number 13 continued his run and was picked out with a pop pass. Under pressure cutting in from the sideline, Regan unleashed a thundering shot that rasped back off Walsh’s crossbar and to safety, so close, yet so far away. Regan did swing over his fourth point two minutes later to close the gap to three, but the chance of an upset was gone as Ballintubber went through the gears in the final ten minutes swinging over seven unanswered points, showing that when the pressure was put on them like champions they could respond in style and see out the game.
Ballintubber: C O’Connor (0-5, 3f ), J Gibbons (0-2 ), D O’Connor (0-2 ), D McGin (0-2 ), A Plunkett (0-1 ), D Coleman (0-1 ), S Finnerty (0-1 ), B Walsh (0-1 ), C Finnerty (0-1 )
Ballina Stephenites: E Regan (0-4, 3f ), M Murray (0-2, 2f ) L Tierney (0-1 )
Ballintubber: B Walsh; G Loftus, C Hallinan, B Murphy; M Plunkett, D Geraghty, M Kelly; J Gibbons, R O’Connor; D O’Connor, A Plunkett, D Coleman; S Finnerty, C O’Connor, D McGing. Subs: D Larkin for G Loftus (BC ), B Walsh for A Plunkett, C Finnerty for S Finnerty, S Broderick for D Coleman, J Geraghty for M Plunkett, G Dillon for D McGing.
Ballina Stephenites: D Clarke; D O’Mahony, P O’Hora, T Doherty; N McLoughlin, L Healy, C Sweeney; C Leonard, M Murray; D Tighe, R Tighe, L Tierney; E Regan, A Corduff, B O’Hora. Subs: S Kinevane for C Sweeney, R Campion for B O’Hora, K Newell for R Tighe (BC ), C Sweeney for C Leonard, S Mullins for N McLoughlin, R Keane for D Tighe, C Leonard for C Sweeney (BS )
Ref: K Connelly (Hollymount-Carramore )