Ballinlough withheld a late Castletown rally to earn a two point win in a memorable intermediate semi-final in Pairc Tailteann on Saturday evening.
Twice Ballinlough built up substantial leads and twice Castletown clawed them back and they could even argue that if the game had went on another few minutes they may have got something out of the game, but there was no denying the North Meath men as they booked there place in the Intermediate Final having already secured a place in the final of the Division 2 A-League and the Corn Na Boinne (Intermediate Cup) Final.
The standard of football was a credit to both teams; and had supporters on the edge of there seats in a game that went right down to the wire. Both teams were extremely fit and well organised with Ballinlough's greater efficiency on front of the posts perhaps the deciding factor. In the past 'The Reds' have often struggled to rack up a winning total despite dominating games, but under Thomas Shine and his selectors; Ken Rothwell, Gary Mc Donnell and John Reilly they appear to have unearthed a new found confidence on front of the posts which will make them formidable final opposition.
'The Lough' were quite simply unplayable in the opening quarter as they put on a memorable display of fast moving football, Kevin Devine, Cian Mallen, Mark Mc Cullen (2), Peadar Byrne Sean Geraghty (2) were all on target as they opened up a 0-7 to 0-3 lead. But it was to get better; Sean Geraghty provided the opening with a probing run and he fed Tommy Mc Cullen and the big full forward rattled the net from close range.
The Mc Cullen and Geraghty combination was to prove very effective in the Ballinlough attack as both players worked tirelessly throughout, Geraghty was particularly effective notching three points over the hour.
Ballinlough were seven points clear; 1-7 to 0-3, and coasting or so they thought! Castletown targeted the Ballinlough full-back line and the roving James Finnerty was delivering plenty of early possession which was causing the Ballinlough defence considerable problems.
In a sensational five minute spell Castletown went from being seven points down to one point up. Barry Smith who was dangerous at full-forward clipped over a good point and then Kenny Smith stole inside the Ballinlough cover to beat the despairing dive of Keith Mc Guinness from close range. Castletown were starting to fire on all cylinders and Barry Smith clipped over another good point before Gerard Farrelly threaded a brilliant pass in front of Darren Finney and the corner forward did well to win the foot race and divert the ball to the net from a difficult angle, amazingly Castletown went ahead; 2-5 to 1-7.
Now it was Ballinlough who were under pressure as Castletown were starting to win much more possession around midfield, but when 'The Reds' were in dire need of a boost Peadar Byrne proved his undoubted class with a clinical finish. Mark Mc Cullen won possession and fed the on running Byrne and the former county man rifled to the net as his team reclaimed the lead, and in the final action of the half Castletown got a pointed a free to leave it; 2-6 to 2-7 and finish off an exceptional thirty minutes of football.
The second half started off much like the first; Ballinlough raced out of the blocks again and opened up a seven point lead with some great passages of attacking football. Peadar Byrne (2), Kevin Devine (2), Simon Deevy and Geraghty had them coasting again as they led; 2-13 to 2-6 after 47 minutes.
But Castletown are a battled hardened outfit, playing in their third intermediate semi-final in a row and they never looked like throwing in the towel. Gerard Farrelly and Robert Hoey started to come more into the game at midfield while Kevin Ross, Kenny Smith and Barry Smith were starting to prosper from an improved supply.
Barry Smith pointed a tricky long range free and Hoey kicked a good score shortly afterwards, suddenly Castletown started to believe again. Jonnie Reilly gave Ballinlough some breathing room with a good score but his team were very much on the back foot as Castletown laid siege on the hospital end.
Kenny Smith kicked another good score to leave it; 2-14 to 2-9, and the minutes must of been feeling like hours for Ballinlough when Shane Hoey and Gerard Farrelly narrowed the margin to three points with two minutes remaining. Kevin Devine dropped deep to break up a couple of attacks but they were threading water when Barry Smith kicked another point to narrow the margin to just two points as the clock headed into injury time, but crucially Padraig Muldoon and Peadar Byrne made interceptions in the dying seconds as Ballinlough sealed a place in the Intermediate Final for the first time since 1991.
Ballinlough: K. Mc Guinness, B. Smith, P. Muldoon, R. Farrell, L. Maguire, Colm Mallen, J. Reilly (0-1), D. Muldoon, P. Byrne (1-3, 1f), M. Mc Cullen (0-2), S. Geraghty (0-3), Cian Mallen (0-1), R. Mc Guinness, T. Mc Cullen (1-0), K. Devine (0-3, 2f). Subs: S. Deevy (0-1) for Cian Mallen (inj.), K. Rothwell for Mc Guinness, Junior O' Reilly for D. Muldoon, Jonathon O' Reilly for Mark Mc Cullen, J. Tunney for Mc Cullen.