It was never going to be easy for Ballyahunis to become the first Mayo side to claim the Connacht Intermediate Hurling Championship and when Keith Higgins found the back of the net for their second goal two minutes into injury time they almost did it. But an equalizer from Stephen Kelly who scored two points from midfield sent the game into extra time on a scoreline of 2-10 to 0-16.
Both sides add three more points each over the two 10 minute periods of extra time to leave them to do it all over again this Sunday, which will be Ballyhaunis’ fifth game inside three weeks. Mayo goalkeeper Donal O’Brien was the additional time hero for the east Mayo men as he arrowed over a long range free, his third placed ball of the day to raise the white flag, in the final minute of extra time to level the game up for one last time.
Things had gone well for Ballyhaunis at the start leading by 0-5 to 0-3 just after 10 minutes, but they went half an hour only scoring one more point and by that stage the Galway champions had gone out into a 0-12 to 0-6 lead early in the second half, having led 0-9 to 0-6 at the short whistle. But the battling qualities that Ballyhaunis have in spades shone through with Jason Coyne finding the net to cut the gap back late on, and then Keith Higgins clipping over a point from a free to leave just two between the sides, before his injury time goal almost stole it at the death. Higgins finished up with a personal tally of 1-7 for the 80 minutes and Ballyhaunis will be hoping that he can replicate a similar scoring performance for the replay.
Donal O’Brien’s long range free taking saw him land three big scores last weekend is another thing that Ballyhaunis will be counting on come Sunday, but up front they’ll be looking for a lot more return from their starting forwards. Of the six who started last weekend, the only one to register a score was Stephen Hoban who just managed a single solitary point from play. Jason Coyne nabbed a goal off the bench, while Ballyhaunis’ other two points came from wing back Kiearn Kelly and midfielder Eoghan Collins. A much more potent return in attack is something they will badly need. While in contrast the Ahascragh-Fohenagh foward unit contributed 15 of their 19 points, with five starting forwards all getting on the scoreboard. Cathal Mannion was the main man landing seven points, five of them from frees and Stephen Smyth added another four all from placed balls. Cutting down on the scoring chances from frees is something else that Ballyhaunis will have to work on with almost half of their opponents points coming from placed balls in the game.
If Ballyhaunis can get things going in their own attack and get a few more chipping in with scores along with tightening up on the amount of frees they give away, then a Connacht title is within touching distance for them.