After 110 minutes of hard work, sheer will and effort Castlebar Celtic saw their dreams of a tenth Connacht Junior Cup come cracking apart in the most heartbreaking of ways in a penalty shoot-out. The Hoops will feel hard done by, having made most of the running during a game played in wild and wet conditions in Milebush Stadium. But Ballinasloe were the ones to get their hands on the old trophy thanks to a 4-2 win from the spot kicks. Jason Hunt slammed home the first kick of the shoot-out for Celtic, with Ballinasloe Town captain Peter Keighery responding in kind. Both sides also converted their next kicks, with Ronan O'Boyle doing the necessary for the Castlebar men and Gary Egan for the Roscommon League side. Gerry Hunt tried to replicate his brothers effort with Celtic's third penalty, but his effort was scooped over Aidan Fallon's bar, Mark Duffy saw his effort just about get past Stephen Cafferkey to hand the advantage to Ballinasloe Town. Up next was Celtic full-back Stephen Walsh, who had been excellent all day. But when it came to the crunch his effort clipped the top of the bar and cleared the target, leaving David Cullen with the chance to win the cup. The Ballinasloe Town full back took the route one option and drove it down the middle of the goal and past Cafferkey to ensure his team retained the title they won last year.
The game started out in a cagey fashion with Celtic's five man midfield trying to curb the creative influence of Town's attacking trio of Mark Duffy, Darragh Concannon and Kenneth Kenny. The early exchanges saw Ballinasloe control most of the ball with Duffy and Concannon trying to play little balls in behind the Celtic rearguard. But both Stevie Ryan and Declan Flynn were in top form Celtic all day, with Ryan putting in a outstanding display over the 110 minutes, getting his body in the way of the ball often and showing composure under pressure when clearing danger. The first clear cut chance of the game fell to Ballinasloe Town captain Peter Keighery who had a free header from an Darragh Concannon cross, but he could only direct the ball past the post on the quarter-of- an-hour mark. That chance shot some life into Celtic and the gradually took control of the game, but were unable to break down the Ballinasloe rearguard as Ronan O'Boyle found himself isolated too often as the lone front man, with Darragh Duffy the only player to offer him much assistance drifting in from the right wing.
Celtic manager Stevie Gavin changed things up at the break with Jason Hunt replacing Ollie Cunningham, the move saw Andy Neary drop back to the left back position and Hunt hugging the left touchline. Right from his introduction Hunt took the game to Ballinasloe and went on a number of mazy runs as he tried to unlock the Town defence. The first chance of the half fell to Ballinasloe danger man Concannon who had a free from the edge of the area that was tipped over the bar by Cafferkery. Twenty minutes from time, Celtic had their best chance of the game when a Ger O'Boyle corner was whipped into the box, Gerry Hunt who had joined his brother on the pitch as another second half sub, made a nuisance of himself in the box. The ball fell to Stephen Walsh who poked an effort goal-wards that was blocked by a Town defender, the rebound fell to the same man and he could hardly believe his eyes when Aidan Fallon pulled off a great save to stop the ball going over the line. Less than a minute later Concannon found himself in a on-side position behind the Celtic defence, but he could only pull his effort past the far post when he looked odds on to score. From then on it was all Celtic with Ronan O'Boyle having an effort well saved after some neat link work with Ioseph O'Reilly, Jason Hunt pulled an effort past the post and had another blocked down by man-of-the match Des Hope. Extra-time saw Ger O'Boyle have a goal bound effort blocked by a last gasp interception from a Ballinasloe Town head and Ronan O'Boyle crack a free kick at the target that had Aidan Fallon scrambling to tip the ball over the bar and out for a corner. But try as they might, Celtic couldn't find the break through and when it came to the penalties, the defending champions hit all the right notes.
Castlebar Celtic: S Cafferkey; S Walsh, S Ryan, D Flynn, O Cunningham; D Duffy, I O'Reilly, B McLoughlin, G O'Boyle, A Neary; R O'Boyle. Subs: J Hunt, G Hunt, E Crean.
Ballinasloe Town: A Fallon; G Egan, D Hope, P Keighery, D Cullen; S Duffy, S Treacy, K Kenny, O Keighery; M Duffy, D Concannon. Subs: J Villeraux, H Loughnane.
Ref: P Kilcoyne (Sligo )