When Matthew Flanagan drove the ball over the Louisburgh bar five minutes from time from a free well out beyond the 45m line in MacHale Park on Sunday, it looked like the McDonnell cup would be making the short 11km journey out the road to Balla for the Winter. But Louisburgh hadn’t read that particular script and the seasiders dug deep from there on in and through injury time to rally and hit the final two points of the day to seal a historic win for John Kelly’s outfit.
In his speech afterwards team captain Kevin Gibbons mentioned their first training session back in January on in the cold and rain on a beach not far from the village and that they were told then that it was a first step to a county title in October. Maybe it was the runs in the bracing cold and rain on the edge of the Atlantic that got them over the line in this one or maybe it was just down to a moment of brilliance by their captain deep into injury time with the pressure on. But all that will matter to them is that they are this years county junior champions.
The game was a low scoring and tense affair, with the eventual winners going in 0-7 to 0-4 up at the break. Balla opened the scoring a minute in when Matthew Flanagan hit his first point of the day after being found by Eoin O’Neil. Kevin Gibbons levelled it up after Austin O’Malley slipped the ball out to him a few seconds later. With five minutes gone, Ben Freyne found himself in on goal, but he could find the net for Balla and three minutes later Flanagan got a sniff of a chance but he spilt the ball under pressure from Marcus O’Malley and Daniel O’Malley did well to block it away. Paul McDonnell put the seasiders back in front on the nine minute mark and it was another 11 minutes before either side raised another white flag as they both kicked a number of chances wide of the post. That next score was another Flanagan point this time from a 45, however it was Louisburgh who reacted best to that effort as they reeled off two points on the bounce with James Gibbons and Kevin Gibbons putting their side into a 0-4 to 0-2 lead five minutes from the short whistle.
Balla cut the gap back to just a single score when Ger Flanagan hit one from out the field, but it took referee John Walker a few minutes to award the score having to check with both his linesman and umpires to see had it gone over the bar at the Bacon Factory end. Louisburgh upped it another gear again after that score and reeled off three in a row with Kevin Gibbons adding another free and Stephen Corrigan and Alan Moran getting the others to put their side four clear, however come the median whistle the gap was only three as Flanagan kicked another long range point from a free to bring a halt to the opening half of action.
It would take Louisburgh 22 minutes to register their first score of the second half and by that stage they were now trailing as Balla hit the first four scores of the half. Half time sub, Shane Conwy hit their first four minutes in and a minute later Eoin O’Neill slipped over a point from a free, the wing back repeated the trick 12 minutes later to tie it all up. With nine minutes left on the clock another replacement, Declan Swenney slung over a great score to edge his side in front for the first time since their opening score of the day.
That point got Louisburgh moving agains and corner forward Michael Gibbons had them back level within a minute. Two minutes later Balla hit the front again when Flanagan landed his fourth point of the afternoon. Pat Fallon’s side had a few chances after that to close out the game, but they were unable to take them. With three minutes injury time indicated by the officials Louisburgh were patient and when they were awarded a free close in on goal on the MacHale Road side of the ground captain Gibbons held his nerve to slot it over and level it up at nine points each as the time ticked down. But they weren’t done yet and Gibbons was given the ball in a difficult spot for a right footed kicker out near the stand side of the pitch, but he hit it with a beautiful connection and it drifted right in over the bar to set up a glorious win for his side.
Louisburgh: K Gibbons (0-5, 3f ), A Moran (0-1 ), S Corrigan (0-1 ), J Gibbons (0-1 ), P McDonnell (0-1 ), M Gibbons (0-1 )
Balla: M Flanagan (0-4, 2f, 1 45 ), E O’Neill (0-2, 2f ) G Flanagan (0-1 ), D Sweeney (0-1 ), S Conway (0-1 ),
Louisburgh: D O’Malley; E O’Malley, M O’Malley, P O’Grady; S Corrigan, P O’Malley, A Moran; P Prendergast, T Dawson; J Gibbons, K Gibbons, P McDonell; J Dowd, A O’Malley, M Gibbons. Subs: James Gibbons for E O’Malley, Paul Prendergast for P O’Grady, S O’Grady for T Dawson, E Ball for P McDonnell, O Lally for J Dowd.
Balla: M O’Connor; G Holian, J Dempsey, S Burke; B Freyne, G Flanagan, E O’Neill; B Duffy, V Roughneen; C Walsh, E Early, D Giblin; G McHale, M Flanagan, C Connor. Subs: D Sweeney for E Early, C Murphy for D Giblin, O Early for J Dempsey, C Kilkenny for B Duffy
Ref: John Walker (Cill Chomain )