Ballinagh are Ulster's finest

April 01, 2008
Not content with bagging their first Cavan IFC title in 15 years, the boys from Ballinagh beat the best of the rest in Ulster to land an historic intermediate double. Thirty years ago, the Ballinagh club inarguably proved itself Cavan's club of 1978 when it won the IFC, the Under 21 championship and the senior league division two title all in the space of a couple of months. In the dying embers of 2007, the Saffrons etched itself once again in the annals of the history of Cavan GAA by annexing the Cavan IFC AND Ulster IFC crowns. Ballinagh's successes on the field in '07 have mirrored the advances it has made in improving its facilities since moving from Lowry's field to its current site in '74. It's present headquarters was redeveloped in the 'eighties and seven years ago, a complex consisting of two new dressing-rooms, a kitchen, a referee's room and toilets was constructed. Four years ago, a 300 capacity terraced stand was built while a training pitch alongside the main pitch, incorporating floodlights, was also developed. An astro-turf pitch is currently under construction on the stand side of the ground. Ballinagh is clearly a club that is going places with steady progress at underage ranks over the past ten years now manifesting itself at adult level in all sorts of arenas. There's great character in the club's flagship squad which was proven by its success in rebounding from defeat to Drumalee in the 2006 IFC final to go one better last September. The omens were good right from the off as the would-be champions hitting the ground running thanks to a 1-8 to 1-6 opening round win over Bailieboro Shamrocks in July. It was a win which was more about the functional than the stylish with the winners doing most of their best stuff in the first half before comfortably consolidating their lead thereafter. The script held good for Ballinagh through the group stage which paved the way for a meeting with Cootehill Celtic at the quarter-final stage. Ballinagh were pressed to the pins of their collars with the fired-up Hoops though Celtic and the Saffrons had to show arguably their best form of the season to secure the win. On a picture-perfect evening for Gaelic football, the pre-championship favourites' penchant for goals proved all-important as they chalked up a 3-9 to 1-10 win with Terry Smith's 56th minute strike - his second of the evening - proving crucial in catapulting Ballinagh first past the chequered flag. Smith had one of his most productive and memorable days with the Ballinagh seniors as it was his side-footed goal after just 42 seconds which put the Saffrons into a lead that they never surrendered thereafter. Ballinagh were no less goal hungry next time out in the IFC semi-final when they had a re-match against their erstwhile first round opponents Bailieboro Shamrocks. Ballinagh were in the wars against Cootehill with goalkeeper Darragh McCarthy, Colin Gumley, Alan Durkin and Paul Galligan all having to leave the field due to injury. Their team-mates nevertheless came up trumps yet again against the Shamrocks with a 1-3 salvo within five first half minutes doing much to engineer a 2-11 to 2-7 victory. The Saffrons booked their place in the county decider the hard way as in a game which saw eight yellow cards being handed out with influential star Anthony Gaynor picking up two yellow cards ten minutes into the second half. Relocated attacker Gaynor's dismissal threatened to scupper Ballinagh's hopes of making the final against Lavey as he had arguably been his side's most effective player. However by that juncture Gaynor had helped pave the way to victory, having won an inordinate amount of 'breaking' ball in the first three quarters. In addition, Gaynor produced a slide rule pass to put Niall McDermott through for a crucial goal in the 15th minute which helped ease the Saffrons into a commanding 1-6 to 0-2 lead. However Bailieboro proved doubty opponents and they hit back with a 1-2 tally inside a four minute spell to cut Ballinagh's lead to just two points, 1-6 to 1-4 at the interval. Ballinagh were nervy and unconvincing in the third quarter and by the 42nd minute had fallen behind, 1-7 to 2-6, for the first time in the match. The eventual victors upped the ante though when drawing level through points from David Finnegan and Niall McDermott as the game entered the final quarter. Thanks, in part, though to a super goal from super-sub Terry Smith, Ballinagh forced their way into a 2-10 to 2-6 lead with less than seven minutes remaining in the game. Ballinagh kept up the pressure and a subsequent converted free by Colin Gumley proved more than enough to wrap up the spoils (2-11 to 2-7) for the gutsy Saffron boys. The win over Bailieboro catapulted Ballinagh into the county final and a meeting with a vaunted Lavey side who would later claim the All County Football League division two crown. The final had all the makings of being one of the most intriguing Intermediate Football Championship finals of recent years. The fixture was a repeat of the 2006 IFC quarter-final when Ballinagh had to be at their best to dispose of Lavey in a predictably feisty and frenetic tussle. Last September's county decider brought together the pre-championship favourites (Ballinagh) against the surprise packets of the competition. The town team went into the match as clear favourites but Lavey's strength of character, hunger and championship pedigree was always going to leave them in with a good shout. The fact that neither team managed to find the consistency of effort in any of their ties in the competition nor the killer touch added fuel to the theory that the final would go to the wire. However on form, the Saffrons seemed to hold most of the aces and the feeling abroad was that Lavey would have to punch above their weight if they were going to stop Ballinagh. Certainly there was a great sense within the county that 2007 would finally see Ballinagh's premier players realise their potential and seize the glittering prize. However by dint of their battles at under 21 level in recent years, most people were convinced that a one-point win for either side or a draw were real possible outcomes. In 2003, Ballinagh ousted Lavey from the under 21 competition at the quarter-final stage. One year later Ballinagh pulled out all the stops to beat Lavey in the Under 21 final and that feat was repeated again the following year, 2005, with Lavey again losing out. In 2006 Lavey again had to tip the forelock to Ballinagh at the quarter-final stage of the under 21 championship so Lavey really owed Ballinagh one in a big way. And nobody doubted Lavey's determination to go the distance as evidenced by their victory in the quarter-final over Drumgoon, after a second replay and their gutsy 0-9 to 0-8 win over Drumlane in the semi-final. Still the odds favoured Ballinagh even if the story wasn't so healthy about young half-forward Kevin Smith in the run-up to the decider. The exciting minor helped himself to three points in his side's aforementioned quarter-final victory over Cootehill Celtic but then missed out on the Bailieboro game through injury. Smith suffered a broken ankle prior to the IFC semi-final and was unable to help his club's minor side in their MFC semi-final defeat to Lurgan. His pace and combination play with Niall McDermott in particular had been a vital asset to the Saffrons throughout the campaign so his absence was a great loss for the final. Ballinagh entered their third IFC final in seven years and were attempting to consolidate the lift they enjoyed in winning the 2006 ACFL Division One title. In steering their way to their first IFC title win since '92, Ballinagh were made to fight all the way by a never-say-die Lavey side at Breffni Park before easing home by 1-7 to 0-9. Ballinagh drew first blood when David Finnegan converted a free in the opening minute and then less than 90 seconds later, Anthony Gaynor doubled his side's advantage. It wasn't until the 10th minute that Lavey got their first score but further points by Colin Gumley and David Finnegan saw Ballinagh enjoy a 0-4 to 0-2 by the end of the first quarter. It was nip and tuck from there to the end of the first half with both sides labouring to stamp their authority. At the short whistle, Ballinagh found themselves 0-5 to 0-4 in front. Ballinagh were more fired-up for the second half and they wasted no time in putting their opponents on the backfoot with a series of threatening raids on the Lavey goal. Lavey defended with great vim and vigour but just couldn't keep their goal intact with Terry Smith bursting through before rifling the ball into the corner of the Lavey net. Smith added a point just a couple of minutes later and, suddenly, Ballinagh were 1-6 to 0-4 to the good and very much in the driving seat. To their credit, Lavey refused to lie down and as the game entered the final quarter, the spoils continued to dangle invitingly in front of the combatants. Ballinagh got another injection of confidence when Colin Gumley converted another free but with just over ten minutes left to play, there was still only four points between the sides. Lavey turned on the heat from there to the finish and got to within two points with three minutes left to play and then just the minimum entering added-on time. However the Saffrons weren't for turning and with great spirit and gusto, they stood their ground to bag their first IFC title since 1992. Ballinagh (IFC final v Lavey): Darragh McCarthy; Anthony Duffy, Niall O'Reilly, Killan McBride; Conor Brady, Padraic O'Reilly, Enda Brady; Cian McDermott, Adrian Maguire; Colin Gumley (0-2), David Finnegan (0-3), Terry Smith (1-1); Paul Galligan, Anthony Gaynor (0-1), Niall McDermott. Subs used; Damien McInerney, Alan Durkin, Patrick Carroll. Six weeks later, the newly-crowned Cavan IFC winners took on their Monaghan counterparts, Tyholland, in a provincial quarter-final tie at Kingspan/Breffni Park. Although he had made tremendous progress in recovering from his ankle trouble, Kevin Smith was still unable to start against the north Monaghan outfit who hammered Down side Downpatrick in their earlier run-out in the competition. Smith did manage to enter the fray at half-time though and his two subsequent points helped greatly in catapulting the Bernard Morris-managed side to a convincing 1-13 to 2-6 win. The Cavan champions led early on but then conceded a goal to fall behind by 0-3 to 1-4 by the end of the first quarter. But while Paul Galligan responded by firing over a tasty left-footed point, Tyholland hit back with another goal to add to the pressure on the 'hosts'. Ballinagh stuck to their guns though and thanks, in part, to Colin Gumley's unerring accuracy kept in touch by the half-time break, trailing by 0-6 to 2-3. The Saffrons were to put in a power-packed second half display though to turn the tables on their impressive and 'oftimes classy-looking opponents. In the 39th minute Niall McDermott caused havoc in the Tyholland defence and Anthony Gaynor pounced to knock the ball into the Tyholland net. Gaynor's major helped ease his side into a 1-7 to 2-3 lead and as they began to secure a greater grip on the midfield exchanges, Ballinagh looked unstoppable. A superb block by Anthony Duffy frustrated Tyholland further and with Damien McInerney also in inspirational form, the Tyholland attack grew more and more desperate. Kevin Smith tapped over a neat point to add to a Gumley free and then Cian McDermott capped a fine display by knocking over the insurance point. A tricky Ulster semi-final tie with Donegal champions Fanad Gaels at Casement Park now beckoned. Although the Tir Chonaill men conquered Tyrone representatives Killyman in some comfort (1-12 to 0-7), after a replay, there was to be no further joy for the blue and whites. Ballinagh got into their stride in double-quick time and after just 20 seconds were in front thanks to a Declan Beard point. The Cavanmen were never to be headed thereafter with another point from Beard added to a gem from Cian McDermott helping to leave Fanad 0-2 to 0-4 behind after 17 minutes. Ballinagh finished the half as they had started with a flourish of attacks leading, in one instance, to a fine point by Kevin Smith, to leave Ballinagh 0-7 to 0-4 ahead at the interval. An air of inevitability cloaked proceedings in the second half and even the introduction of their injury-plaqued countyman, Paddy McGonigley, three minutes into the second half failed to work the oracle for the chasing team. Colin Gumley opened the second half scoring with a point but while Fanad replied with a similar score moments later, that was to be their only score of the second half. Ballinagh went onto dominate almost every sector of the field and were on cruise control long before the final whistle was sounded, leaving them handsome 0-11 to 0-5 victors. The provincial final arguably saw Ballinagh at their very best in 2007 as they ran an admittedly less than dynamic Dunloy (Antrim) ragged for most of the game in Omagh. Brilliant Ballinagh won most of the battles in a real war of attrition to lift the Patrick McCully Cup (2-11 to 2-3) after what was a cracking Ulster club IFC final. It was a day when the Cavan champions' big guns came good to blow their Antrim opponents out of the water in front of 1,226 fans in Healy Park. Rising star Niall McDermott and former county ace Paul Galligan both chipped in with 1-2 while gamekeeper turned poacher Anthony Gaynor played the target-man role to a tee. In contrast, Dunloy were as dismal up front as the afternoon itself and even the switching on of the floodlights at half-time failed to brighten up their game of catch-up. Dunloy flattered to deceive and even the leg-up of a 2nd minute goal by Kevin McAllister failed to hoist them onto the same plateau as their more fluid, potent opponents. It was to be a further 21 minutes before Dunloy added to their tally while, in contrast, Colin Gumley, Anthony Gaynor and Declan Beard all scored from play to level matters with 12 minutes on the clock. The lights remained stuck on green for Ballinagh as the first half progressed and a 21st minute belter by the aforementioned McDermott helped propel would-be champions into a 1-5 to 1-0 lead. Things got progressively better for the Saffrons with Paul Galligan cantering his way past a brace of powder-puff tackles before rattling the back of the Dunloy net from 12 metres. Leading by 2-5 to 1-1 at the interval, Ballinagh continued to show plenty of grit and determination and no little invention or tactical nous as they easily extended their lead. That said, the Glensmen seemed to have grabbed a lifeline in the 41st minute when they goaled; a score which served to cut Ballinagh's lead to a more manageable six points. Ballinagh stoutly defended their lines though even if they survived a major scare when an overhead flick in the 58th minute saw the bouncing ball just hop wide of the Ballinagh post. The Antrim champions desperately needed a third goal to get themselves out of jail but, instead, it was Ballinagh who finished the game in style. The Cavan champions were cock-a-hoop with Anthony Gaynor, Kevin Smith and Colin Gumley all pointing to seal a comfortable and historic win. The history-making Ballinagh players who did duty at Omagh lined up as follows: Dara McCarthy; Killian McBride, Patrick Carroll, Anthony Duffy; Niall O'Reilly, Pauric O'Reilly, Damian McInerney; Adrian Maguire, Cian McDermott; Colin Gumley (0-3, two frees), Declan Beard (0-1), David Finnegan; Niall McDermott (1-2), Anthony Gaynor (0-2, one 45), Paul Galligan (1-2). Subs; Kevin Smith (0-1);Terry Smith; Ruairi Brennan; Thomas Moore;Conor Brady.

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