Ballina best in dogged decider

March 17, 2005

David Brady
Ballina made it a Green and Red club finals day at Croke Park with a long range converted free by man of the match Liam Brady two minutes from time helping them secure the All-Ireland club football title after a tremendous battle with Portlaoise. Ballina Stephenites 1-12 Portlaoise 2-8 The westerners won the majority of battles over the hour but they needed to produce a much more efficient, potent display in the second half to make sure captain Brian Ruane was afforded the opportunity to lift the Andy Merrigan cup. In reversing a 0-6 to 1-5 interval deficit and eventually sealing a thrilling victory, the Mayo and Connacht champions pulled out all the stops to claim the spoils in front of over 31,000 fans. Powered forward by a dominant midfield duo of David Brady and Ronan McGarrity, the winners-elect enjoyed the majority of possession in the opening quarter but their 0-3 to 0-3 lead inside the first 13 minutes was hardly the lead their efforts deserved. In a claustrophobic, stop-start first half, all of those first five scores came from frees as did the opening goal of the game which arrived in the 14th minute. The goal came via a classic converted penalty by Kevin Fitzpatrick after James Devenney was deemed to have fouled Craig Rodgers. Fitzpatrick's major steered the midlanders into a 1-2 to 0-3 lead and as Ballina continued to demonstrate the old failings of Mayo football with too much hand passing and poor shooting hamstringing their bid for parity. But the introduction of Patrick McHale in the 27th minute and the continuing influence of the Brady/McGarrity midfield axis continued to give Ballina in the possession stakes. A rare point from open play in the game by Craig Rodgers in the 31st minute kept the game on the boil but the aforementioned McHale popped up with the perfect reply for Ballina less than a minute later. An Ian Fitzgerald free on the stroke of half-time served to restore Portlaoise's two point lead as they teams went into the break with the westerners behind by 0-6 to 1-5. The second half began in turbo-charged mode with the teams combining to record five points inside the opening seven minutes. Portlaoise kicked off the scoring fest at the Hill 16 side of the ground when the otherwise quiet Colm Parkinson speeding through the Ballina defence to fist the ball over the bar just over a minute after the restart The fast pace of the game was unrelenting thereafter and after Ger Brady and team-mate Casey both pointed, Ballina grabbed a major psychological boost when Stephen Hughes rounded Michael Nolan before sliding the ball into the empty net with 35 minutes on the clock. Thanks mainly to the promptings of David Brady, Ballina looked assured as they pressed to consolidate their 1-8 to 1-6 lead but they were out of luck when Portlaoise 'keeper Michael Nolan pulled off a great save in the 42nd minute from the marauding McHale. But as tired legs began to become a feature of the game more and more, mistakes started to happen around the field with increasing regularity. But there was no indirect influence on Portlaoise's second goal which was expertly crafted by Messrs. Fitzgerald, Parkinson and McNulty and brilliantly finished by Fitzpatrick in the 45th minute. Peter McNulty followed up one minute later to make it 2-8 to 1-9 for Portlaoise but from there to the finish Ballina showed the greater ambition, fitness and nerve to come good. Frustration raised its head before the climax though and a booking for Ronan McGarrity and Shane Sweeney of Ballina in quick succession reflected the tension as the final five minutes kicked in. Ballina continued to gain a lot of possession but they tested the patience of their supporters with their propensity to over-elaborate and adorn their advances with cross field rather than direct passes. But the Mayo men stuck at it and three consecutive points from Liam Brady, Patrick Harte and the winner from Liam Brady plus a last-gasp clearance off the line by sub. Aidan Tighe conspired to seal Portlaoise's fate.

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