Cavan SFC final: Brave Ballinagh stun Gaels

October 13, 2013

Ballinagh's dinner dance is on Saturday the 12th of April.
Ballinagh 0-12
Cavan Gaels 0-11

by Shane Corrigan
at Kingspan Breffni Park

Ballinagh upset Cavan Gaels to make history this evening in the Cavan senior football championship final at Kingspan Breffni Park.

Ranked as 11/2 outsiders coming into this decider, Ciaran O'Reilly's men put in a five-star display to deny a fancied Gaels side their 13th county title and collect their first in the process in a game where key men Padraic O'Reilly and Niall McDermott were simply outstanding for the winners.

O'Reilly starred at midfield and McDermott's sound free-taking was the winning of the game for the Saffrons, whom took in a deserved three-point lead, having missed a goal chance, at half-time over their stunned counterparts.

The Gaels could have goaled in the opening stages of the second-half, but Martin Dunne's placed effort went over the bar instead of under and for the remainder of the game Ballinagh's confidence grew with O'Reilly soaring, McDermott scoring and team captain Killian McBride and Conor Smith tying up Sean Johnston and Dunne inside.

Cast as colossal favourites, the Gaels' only lead in this final arrived in the 15th minute but they looked poised to steal a victory in the closing 10 minutes, having fought back to draw level, before Thomas Moore and McDermott nudged their team two in front, leaving the Gaels needing a goal which never came their way as Ballinagh held on for a historic triumph.

It took three minutes for Ballinagh to make their mark on this game through their talisman McDermott with a free won by midfielder Padraic O'Reilly.

Two wides from the Gaels followed before Sean Johnston split the posts from an acute angle on six minutes to get them off the mark.

At that early stage, McBride and Smith were edging the battle inside against the Gaels' danger men and it wouldn't be long before the town side lost full-forward Paul O'Connor to a shoulder injury, with Conor McClarey receiving an early introduction.

McDermott and Dunne traded frees to keep things even until the quarter mark when the Gaels moved into their first lead through a fine long range point from wing forward Declan Meehan.

A third McDermott free soon had the underdogs level once more ahead of the first evidence of this decider heading in their favour when Padraic O'Reilly lashed over a superb point in the 17th minute. His brother Niall doubled the advantage a minute later and when centre-back Damien McInerney found his range from 40 metres the momentum was firmly flowing in Ciaran O'Reilly's side's favour.

McDermott extended the lead to four with a looping free from all of 45 metres, but the Cavan star could've done much more damage had he hit the net with a goal chance he fluffed wide in the next attack. It was a let off for the Gaels, who had gone 10 minutes without a score by that stage, and could have cost their opponents dear in the end.

The trailers reduced their arrears towards the eve of half-time when Barry Fortune's slick pass into Johnston inside saw the former Kildare panellist turn and point in trademark style before a Dunne free made it a two-point game.

Ballinagh would have the final say of the half though, with McDermott again the Gaels' tormentor, winning a free from a suitable position to raise his fourth white flag and send his side in at the interval 0-8 to 0-5 to the good.

With his team out of sorts at centre-field for large portions of the first-half, Gaels boss Joe O'Connor introduced livewire Kevin Meehan for Dominic Reilly to give them more bite for the second-half and they very nearly drew level within three minutes of the resumption when Dunne cut through and fired over Declan Beard's crossbar in effort of a goal.

Declan Meehan made it a one-point game with his second long range score of the evening as the Gaels looked to be on the verge of moving up a gear but McDermott's reliable free-taking nudged them further in front once more ahead of Terry Smith's point and Anthony Gaynor's introduction which ignited a huge roar from the Ballinagh crowd.

Gaynor would be stationed at full-forward but saw his marker Marc Leddy forget his defensive duties for a moment and strike a sweet score and when Dunne (free) and Lyng added singles the game would be all square to make for a pulsating final 10 minutes.

Crucially, Ballinagh landed the next blow when Enda Brady nabbed possession inside and after the corner-forward looked to have been impeded referee Kieran McCarville awarded a throw up which saw Thomas Moore quickest to the breaking ball and thumping over to hand the victors back the advantage.

The Gaels hunted for an equaliser but couldn't match the sheer guts and determination that Ballinagh demonstrated till the very end. On countless occasions Padraic O'Reilly steamed forward from midfield and he again found McDermott's jinking run just to the left of Martin Cassidy's posts and the full-forward was axed down to convert his seventh free, leaving his opponents in need of a goal in the dying moments.

Ballinagh worked like Trojans to make sure they wouldn't concede what would have been a heart-breaking goal, losing Gaynor to a second yellow when he halted Lyng's bid to run through their centre. Lyng would see red too for the afters and the foul itself left Johnston with a chance to be the hero for the Gaels but his free was tipped over by a defender's block which left them one short and Ballinagh with a first Oliver Plunkett Cup success in their 125-year history.

Ballinagh: Declan Beard; Killian McBride, Patrick Carroll, Conor Smith; David Finnegan, Damien McInerney (0-1), Philip Bogue; Padraic O'Reilly (0-1), Niall O'Reilly (0-1); Kevin Smith, Thomas Moore (0-1), Terry Smith (0-1); Colin Gumley, Niall McDermott (0-7, 7f), Enda Brady. Subs: Anthony Gaynor for E Brady (39mins), Eamon McEvoy for T Smith (57), Michael Ward for K Smith (60), Paul Galligan for Gumley (60).

Cavan Gaels: Martin Cassidy; Barry Fortune, Marc Leddy (0-1), Karl Crotty; Niall Murray, Eamonn Reilly, Levi Murphy; Dominic Reilly, Cathal Collins; Declan Meehan (0-2), Michael Lyng (0-1), Robert Maloney-Derham; Sean Johnston (0-3, 1f), Paul O'Connor, Martin Dunne (0-4, 3f). Subs: Conor McClarey for P O'Connor (12mins, inj), Kevin Meehan for D Reilly (HT), Sean Reilly for K Crotty (42), Niall Smith for Levi Murphy (48), Gavin Duffy for N Murray (58).

Ref: Kieran McCarville (Cootehill Celtic)

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