Last Saturday evening a wind and rain-swept Connacht GAA Centre of Excellence was the scene for two of the most dramatic senior quarter finals in recent years and the RTE cameras were there to catch the action.
In the first encounter, Westport left it really late to snatch victory against a Ballina side that made all the early running and who were visibly distraught at the final whistle after Fionn McDonagh fired over a 64th minute winner, the first time Westport went ahead in the entire game.
Ballina put in a herculean effort throughout as they tore up the script with their underdogs tag racing into a 1-04 to 0-0 lead by the first half water break, playing with the strong elements at their backs.
To compound matters for Westport, inspirational full forward Kevin Keane had to leave proceedings after picking up what looked like a serious knee injury.
Ballina's goal was a splendid solo effort by Luke Doherty who showed great composure to finish low to Paddy O Malley's net. Westport turned things completely around for the second quarter, scoring 0-5 in a row themselves, two coming from the boot of the excellent Colm Moran who ended the day with 0-5 points from play.
Conditions were horrendous and dictated a lot of what unfolded. Ballina were still ahead by 1-08 to 0-9 entering the last quarter but their failure to capitalise when Rory Brickenden was issued with a black card for a deliberate body check on Padraig o Hora was to be their undoing. Westport clung on thanks to the excellent Moran who scored three points during that third quarter and his corner forward team mate Alan Kennedy - who was very good throughout.
Water breaks have become an integral part of the game now but they can be a serious disruption for a team going well. After the first half water break, Westport outscored the Stephenites 0-5 to 0-1 and after the second half water break, it was 0-4 to 0-1 in their favour.
The breaks in play did nothing for Ballina but ruin their momentum. Westport, to their credit, regrouped after those breaks and snatched victory at the death. Their big worry now is the fitness of Kevin Keane for their upcoming semi final against Belmullet.
What a game, what a finish
We thought we wouldn't get a more nail-biting finish for the rest of the weekend but we were wrong. We only had to wait two hours for the end of the Knockmore v Ballintubber quarter final, the game that was built up as the match of the weekend and it didn't disappoint either. This game had a bit of everything, two really good teams going at each other.
There were so many good passages of play, excellent defending, superb fetching, brilliant scoring, costly mistakes and of course lots of controversy. Goals proved to be the ultimate difference. Both Knockmore goals came from poor handling errors. A long ball by Kevin Mcloughlin was mishandled by Gary Loftus, the ball fell through his hands for Peter Naughton to pick up the break before feeding Aidan Orme for a very tidy finish in the 12th minute. Knockmore's second goal came from a miss-hit free from Naughton that Ballintubber goalkeeper Frank Walsh took his eye off before letting it slip through his hands and into the back of the net.
Despite Jason Gibbons getting a second yellow card for a lunge at Kevin Mcloughlin, Ballintubber refused to go away as Diarmuid O' Connor exerted his influence on the game. The controversy only started deep in injury time. Ballintubber were awarded a free on the edge of the 14 yard box in the 67th minute after a coming together between O'Connor and Shane McHale, which resulted in McHale receiving his second yellow card. What unfolded was complete carnage.
O'Connor, who took the resulting free, had no choice but to drive the ball at a packed Knockmore goal line. The ball was blocked but referee Declan Corcoran awarded a penalty to Ballintubber for a breach of the 13m rule as they came off the line to stop the effort. Corcoran had clearly told the Knockmore players to not move towards the ball.
Penalties make heroes out of goalies and villains out of takers who miss. Ryan McDonnell who had only come on in goals for the unwell Colm Reape proved himself to be the match-winning hero after a superb save from the resulting penalty by Diarmuid O'Connor. The game was over immediately after. Despair for Ballintubber and relief for county champions Knockmore, who also have to sweat over the fitness of Darren McHale, who limped off in the first half.
Belmullet and Garrymore joined Saturday's winners in the semi finals after merited wins against Breaffy and Castlebar Mitchels in the other quarter finals, thanks mainly to a goal apiece from Enda Hession for Garrymore and Ryan O Donoghue for Belmullet. O' Donoghue's finish was out of this world as he lobbed the ball over Robbie Hennelly from the tightest of angles. The tides have certainly turned with Breaffy and Castlebar failing to make a semi final. In years gone by they were making it to finals for fun. I expected Garrymore to beat Castlebar, however I presumed Breaffy would have too much for Damien Mulligan's team. We certainly have two novel and intriguing semi finals to look forward to.