Aiming to bounce back
27 May 2005
After 10 years in the intermediate grade, Ballinagore were relegated back to the junior ranks at the end of last year. However, outgoing manager Liam McDaniel remains upbeat about the future and is convinced that they have what it takes to bounce back in the coming season.
Relegation to the junior grade became a reality for Ballinagore at the end of last season after 10 years of intermediate championship football on Brosnaside.
After defeating Milltown to win the junior championship in 1994, Ballinagore quickly established themselves as one of the top clubs in the intermediate championship and were desperately unlucky to lose the finals of 1996 and ’97 to Ballynacargy and Garrycastle respectively. During the same period, they rubbed shoulders with the big guns of Westmeath senior football by competing in Division 1 of the All-County League and were also the inaugural winners of the Intermediate Cup.
But since the break-up of that team, Ballinagore have found the going a lot tougher and it didn’t come as a surprise to anyone when they finally lost their intermediate status last November following a play-off defeat to Tang.
“It was very hard for the fellas to come to terms with, but we could have no real complaints,” says outgoing Ballinagore manager Liam McDaniel.
“We had a very poor championship campaign which saw us lose all six of our group matches and, of course, the relegation play-off to Tang. We would probably have beaten Tang but for the fact that we missed a lot of chances in the first half. But it wasn’t to be and the club must pick itself up again and try to win the junior championship this year.”
During McDaniel’s two-year reign, Ballinagore had been in heavy transition, making survival in the intermediate grade all the more difficult. They blooded a number of young players, but not enough to offset the losses of some of their more experienced campaigners.
“What was a terrible blow to the club was losing the likes of Rory O’Brien, Sean Claffey, Norman Maxwell, Jimmy Marshall and the Connells, Ger and Dermot, all around the same time,” McDaniel explains.
“We brought in a good few new faces, but it takes time for those lads to settle in. Last year was another bad year for retirements with the two Robinsons, Sean and Peter, and Jarlath Mahon also bowing out. And even though we had up to 40 players training with us, we couldn’t absorb those losses.”
To add to Ballinagore’s problems, key players such as Michael Ennis, Eoin Miller and Ger Linnane were injured at different stages of the year.
“Michael and Eoin, who are arguably our two best known players, hardly played a game together because of injury,” recalls McDaniel, who wore the Kilbeggan, Westmeath and Carmelite College jerseys with distinction.
“Michael had a leg injury in the early part of the year and he had barely returned when Eoin suffered a broken collarbone. On top of that, Ger Linnane had a toe injury which forced him to miss a lot of games.”
The 2004 intermediate championship will not hold many fond memories for Ballinagore who, despite producing some encouraging displays, failed to win a single game. The tone for the season was set when they lost their opening game to Milltownpass by 0-9 to 3-10 at The Downs in early May.
The maroon and whites held their own in the first quarter but Milltownpass gained the upperhand in the second quarter to take a 2-3 to 0-4 lead into the break. Shortly after the resumption, Ballinagore reduced the gap to three points but that was as close as they came as Milltownpass pulled away for a comfortable victory.
After a long summer break courtesy of the exploits of the county team, Ballinagore returned to action with three championship outings in as many weeks. Unfortunately, none of the games yielded a positive result as Ballinagore’s relegation worries increased.
In the first of the three games, Ballinagore succumbed to Mullingar Shamrocks’ second team on a 0-11 to 2-14 scoreline. After the opening 10 minutes, they trailed by 0-3 to 0-4 but then Shamrocks found an extra gear to lead by 0-10 to 0-5 at the break. And whatever hopes they had of making a recovery in the second half were dashed when Shamrocks scored two goals within five minutes of the restart.
Against Milltown, Ballinagore paid the price for a desperately poor first half display which saw them trail by 0-1 to 1-9 at the interval. They showed a big improvement in the second half and were back to within four points when Michael Ennis netted in the 50th minute. However, Milltown finished the stronger to win by 1-14 to 1-8.
Despite their poor run of results, Ballinagore led eventual champions St. Mary’s by 0-4 to 0-3 at half-time in their fourth outing. But the Rochfortbridge men emerged for the second half a different team and had opened up a 0-12 to 0-6 lead before Michael Ennis gave Ballinagore hope with another well-taken goal. However, St. Mary’s replied a short time later with a similar score and eventually ran out winners by 1-12 to 1-7.
A 1-5 to 3-9 defeat to Bunbrosna in their penultimate group match meant that, even if Ballinagore managed a win against Rosemount in the final game, they would still face a relegation play-off. But Rosemount ensured that their miserable run continued by claiming a 3-12 to 2-9 victory, with all of the winners’ goals coming in the first half.
With their intermediate status at stake, Ballinagore raised their game for the make-or-break clash with Tang at Moate on November 6. But despite their best efforts, the Brosnasiders were edged on a 0-8 to 0-9 scoreline.
Tang, who were without the services of county star Paul Conway, recovered from a slow start to lead by 0-6 to 0-3 at half-time. The south county outfit extended their advantage to four points before Michael Ennis and Eoin Miller replied with minors for Ballinagore.
Tang regained a four-point lead before the crucial moment of the match came in the 50th minute when Tang ’keeper JJ Leavy made a stunning save from Cathal Ennis who had to be content with a point. But despite that miss, Ballinagore kept plugging away and points from Miller and Michael Ennis left just the minimum between the sides with a minute of normal time remaining.
Referee Paudge Greene played five minutes of injury-time, but try as they might, Ballinagore were unable to conjure an equalizing point and were duly relegated.
The league didn’t bring much joy for Ballinagore either, although McDaniel believes retaining their Division 3 status was a good achievement considering they were without Michael Ennis for all of their games. The club’s interests in the junior ’B’ championship were ended by Rosemount following a 1-2 to 1-10 loss in July.
For McDaniel, the year’s highlights were Ennis’ involvement with the Leinster championship-winning Westmeath team and the achievement of St. Malachy’s/Ballinagore in winning the Club 1 minor football title.
“Having Michael on the county team in such an historic year was something all Ballinagore people can feel proud of,” he points out.
“It was wonderful to see a local on the team. Michael is someone who all the youngsters in Ballinagore look up to. And don’t forget, the Westmeath team did all their heavy training in Ballinagore which created an extra buzz.
“The other highlight was the county minor title success. The fact that Ballinagore made such a handsome contribution to that win provides plenty of hope for the future.”
Played at Tyrrellspass in early July, the minor decider against Mullingar Shamrocks was an absorbing contest with late goals from James Sheerin and James Durkan propelling the combination side to a 3-10 to 1-11 victory. Durkan, who was a member of last year’s county under 15 and under 16 teams, finished the final with a personal tally of 2-7.
Before Christmas, a meeting was held to discuss the possibility of Ballinagore and St. Malachy’s joining forces at all levels. But following a lively debate, the idea was given the thumbs-down by both clubs.
“I respected both arguments that were put forward but I still couldn’t make up my own mind on the matter. If the two clubs came together at adult level, I’m sure they would be a strong senior outfit, but what about the lad in Ballinagore who is number 38 or 39? How would he get his game?” asks McDaniel, who refereed the 1998 SFC final between Athlone and Coralstown/Kinnegad.
Despite last year’s relegation heartbreak, McDaniel tips Ballinagore to bounce back in 2005.
“If Ballinagore put their minds to it, they will win the junior championship. The club was represented on nearly every county team last year - from under 14 upwards - and I would take tremendous encouragement from that,” he concludes.
The Ballinagore team which lost to Tang in the relegation play-off was: Pat Maloney; Peter Deegan, Louis Ennis, Enda McCann; Pierce Corcoran, Peter Heraty, Pat Heduan; Eoin Miller, Paul Seery; Ciaran Carey, Michael Ennis, Martin Linnane; Cathal Ennis, Ian Seery, Eddie Quinlan. Subs used: James Sheerin and Declan Claffey.