The old firm of Mayo hurling came face-to-face once again on Sunday in the Mayo Senior Hurling Championship final and it was the men in red and black who made the short trip home in the road with the Tyrrell Cup in their arms after an exciting encounter in the Tooreen Hurling Grounds.
This little corner of east Mayo has been the backbone of hurling in Mayo for decades and on Sunday they came out in force, with the blue and white of Tooreen and the red and black of Ballyhaunis prominently on display amongst the healthy attendance at the game. At the end there were only two points separating the sides, but midway through the second half it looked like Ballyhaunis were going to run away with it after the opened up a six points lead when Keith Higgins stroked over his second and his teams 12th point of the day with 13 minutes left on the clock. But that was the last time Ballyhaunis would score in the game and Tooreen showed their grit and determination to whittle the lead down to just two scores at full time, thanks to a brace of points from both Sean Regan and Fergal Boland. Had Kenny Feeney not had a very unusual off day at the office from placed balls, it could have been even closer at the end. But when all was said and done Ballyhaunis deserved the win, which marked a remarkable seven days for the club after their footballers claimed the intermediate title the previous Sunday.
Kenny Feeney opened the scoring on the day with a free less than a minute into the contest and that was replied to by a Brian Hunt effort also from a placed ball two minutes later. The opening 15 minutes of the game were a very cagy affair as the two teams tried to feel each other out. Tooreen landed the next two scores, both from Feeney placed balls, one a free the other a 65'. Hoban responded with another score from a free for his side and he was quickly followed by two points from Mayo goalkeeper Donal O'Brien who drove two great points from distance, one from the play the other from a free. The home team responded with another point from a Feeney free and a Ciaran Charlton belter from way out the park. Ten minutes before the turn around Tooreen plundered the first goal of the game. Sean Regan clipped in a shot from the right hand side of the field, the ball dropped short and and Ray Larkin was loitering with intent and he drove the ball to the back of Michael Walsh's net. The goal was met with healthy roar from the home faithful. However it was to be the last time they'd manage a score for the next 26 minutes of the game. Ballyhaunis cut the gap back to just a single point before the break as they reeled off the three final scores of the half, through points from Hunt (twice ) and O'Brien.
The second half saw Ballyhaunis come out after the break a changed team and score 1-4 unanswered inside the first 15 minutes of the half. Keith Higgins who really came into the game at this stage got things going after both sides had some early second half misses. Stephen Hoban got in on the act with two more points inside a minute to push Ballyhaunis two clear at the ten minute mark. With 19 minutes left in the game Ballyhaunis manager, Peter Higgins introduced Tadgh Buckley from the bench and he was about to have a very telling impact on the game. Two minutes after he came on Buckley was played in by Keith Higgins and hit a great score on the turn and three minutes later he was amongst a gaggle of players who were on the scene when Eoghan Collins' goal chance was saved by Adrian Hession in the Tooreen goal and the sliothar was forced over the line. After having a number of misses already in the half, Tooreen finally had something to cheer about shortly after when Fergal Boland drove the sliothar over the bar from out on the right hand side. Keith Higgins scored his second of the day not long after to put his side six clear and looking to be home and hosed, but credit to the men in blue and white they kept up the fight to the bitter end and gave it their all.
Ballyhaunis: B Hunt (0-4, 3f, 1 65' ), T Buckley (1-1 ), D O'Brien (0-3, 2f ), S Hoban (0-2 ), K Higgins (0-2 )
Tooreen: K Feeney (0-4, 4f ), R Larkin (1-0 ), F Boland (0-3, 2f ), S Regan (0-2 ), C Charlton (0-1 )
Ballyhaunis: M Walsh, A Brennan, P Healy, D Keadin; F Lyons, E Collins, K Kiely; P Higgins, K Higgins; K McDermott, A Lyons, B Hunt; S Hoban, D O'Brien, P Kiely. Subs: T Buckley for D O'Brien, M Lyons for D Healy, A Phillips for K McDermott.
Tooreen: A Hession; S Ganley, S Morley, D Kenny; C Finn, C Freeman, C Charlton; M Morley, G Nolan; F Boland, S Regan, R Larkin; S Hunt, K Feeney, S Boland: Subs: S Markham for R Larkin, P Hunt for S Hunt.
Ref: C Hynes (Westport )