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2009 Relegation heartbreak

Relegation heartbreak

30 April 2009


Twelve months after they were crowned intermediate football champions for the first time, Ballinagore endured the heartbreak of relegation from the senior ranks last October following a play-off defeat to Bunbrosna. While admitting that relegation was a massive body blow, rising star Thomas McDaniel is hoping that Ballinagore's senior experience will give them an edge over their rivals in their quest to regain top-flight status in the year ahead.

Ballinagore became the latest team to discover the huge gulf that exists between intermediate and senior football when they surrendered their senior status after just one year in the grade.
Following their historic intermediate championship success in 2007, consolidating their position among the top-flight clubs was always going to be Ballinagore's number one priority last year. But after failing to register a win in any of their group matches, they found themselves involved in a relegation play-off against Bunbrosna. Extra-time failed to separate the teams when they met at Shandonagh in early October, but when the sides renewed their rivalry under the St. Loman's floodlights five days later, Bunbrosna's supremacy was clear for all to see as they powered to a 10-point victory.

"It was a hard one to take, especially when you look back at the number of games we could have won but didn't," Ballinagore's young scoring sensation Thomas McDaniel ruefully reflects.
"After going through 2007 unbeaten, it was a big change for us to be losing games. With the exception of the St. Loman's game, where we were well beaten, we were very competitive and could possibly have won two or three games. But it wasn't to be and unfortunately it's back to square one for us in the coming year."

The 18-year-old Leaving Cert student at Mercy Secondary School, Kilbeggan, who marked his full debut for the Westmeath seniors by scoring 1-1 in January's O'Byrne Cup Shield victory over Wexford, feels Ballinagore allowed their heads to drop after picking up just one point from their first three outings against The Downs, Coralstown/Kinnegad and Killucan.
"They were all games we could have won, and I suppose our confidence dropped a bit when we didn't win any of them," he says.
"We got out of the winning mode we had been in, and it's very hard to get that back once you've lost it. We still had a chance of avoiding the relegation play-off going into our last group match against St. Malachy's, but they beat us by a point and then we lost to Bunbrosna after a replay."

The Downs provided the opposition for Ballinagore in their first ever senior championship match at Rochfortbridge on May 18. The nine-time senior kingpins opened the scoring through Tommy Cleary before James Durkan levelled for the newcomers. The Downs led 0-3 to 0-2 at the end of the first quarter and had stretched their advantage to three points before a Shane Power goal on the stroke of half-time left Ballinagore with a mountain to climb in the second half.
Trailing by six points at the interval, Ballingore resumed with a point from their All-Star nominee Michael Ennis before Cleary and Barry Conroy pushed The Downs seven points clear. Ennis added five frees before the end, while Durkan also had a brace of points from play, but it wasn't enough to save Gerry Feery's men from a 0-11 to 1-12 defeat.
Ballinagore came agonisingly close to claiming their maiden senior win when they drew 1-10 apiece with Coralstown/Kinnegad at St. Loman's. The Pairc Ui Bhodhrain outfit were the better team throughout, but had to settle for a share of the spoils after Enda Leonard kicked the equalising point in injury-time.

A converted penalty by man of the match James Durkan in the 26th minute helped Ballinagore to a 1-5 to 0-5 lead, and they had opened up a 1-8 to 0-5 lead 10 minutes into the second half. But a punched goal by Leonard brought Kinnegad back into it, and after David Deegan had a similar effort ruled out for 'square ball', the red and whites finished strongly to salvage a draw.
Ballinagore's third outing against Killucan produced another frustrating result with the Saffrons coming from behind to win 1-10 to 1-8. The sides were level at half-time, but a McDaniel goal and a Michael Ennis point had the Brosnasiders four clear by the eighth minute of the second half.

Inspired by Brian Smyth, however, Killucan responded in the best possible fashion by scoring 1-4 in the space of just four minutes - the goal coming from former county player James Nugent in the 45th minute. Ballinagore rallied in the closing stages, but the goal they so desperately sought never materialised as the Saffrons held on for a two-point win.
Ballinagore's task became even more difficult when they suffered a 0-7 to 0-16 defeat to St. Loman's at Cusack Park. Playing with the aid of the breeze in the first half, Ballinagore were first out of the blocks when James Durkan pointed after just 30 seconds before Loman's gradually gained the upper hand to lead 0-7 to 0-5 at the interval.
Loman's increased their lead on the resumption before substitute Ian Seery missed a great chance to bring Ballinagore back into contention when his shot was saved by Stephen Gallagher. Eoin Miller followed up with a point, but it proved to be the Brosnasiders' last score as Loman's closed out the game with a flurry of late points.

Ballinagore's involvement in the relegation play-off was confirmed following a 0-13 to 1-11 defeat to parish rivals and underage partners St. Malachy's at Kinnegad. In one of the most keenly contested games of the championship, St. Malachy's led 1-6 to 0-6 at half-time thanks to an Alan Mangan penalty. But with James Durkan and Dan Gavin showing impressive scoring form, Ballinagore twice drew level before Mangan gave the Castletown-Geoghegan men the win with a pointed free in the eighth minute of stoppage-time.
McDaniel recalls: "It was a massive game as both teams were fighting for their senior survival. It was strange to be playing against lads you had played alongside at underage level, and Malachy's definitely raised their game. Alan Mangan missed nothing from frees and that, combined with their greater senior experience, probably made the difference.
Ballinagore went into their do-or-die clash with Bunbrosna as favourites to make the drop, but dug deep to force a replay. A James Durkan goal helped Ballinagore to a 1-4 to 0-6 interval lead, but with Peter Tormey in fine scoring form, Bun' opened up a five-point lead with eight minutes to go. However, Ballinagore refused to submit to the Longford-border outfit and despite Enda Murphy saving Michael Ennis' penalty in the final minute of normal time, they forced extra-time with a last-gasp goal from Durkan. The sides could not be separated in the additional period, finishing level on 0-17 to 2-11.
Bunbrosna made no mistake in the replay, winning 3-10 to 1-6 on a miserable night for Ballinagore. Played in appalling conditions, the result of the tie was never in any doubt, with Conor Newman's goal giving the favourites a five-point cushion, 1-4 to 0-2, at the break.
A pointed free by Thomas McDaniel just 45 seconds after the restart suggested Ballinagore would not lie down easily, but Bun's quickly stamped their authority with a quick-fire 1-1 from Kevin Mitchell. A third goal from Noel Kiernan sealed the deal, and all that Ballinagore could muster in reply was a late goal from Michael Ennis as Bun' ran out convincing winners.
McDaniel, whose father Liam was a star performer with Kilbeggan in the 1970s and 80s and is now referees' coordinator for Westmeath, is convinced Ballinagore can bounce back from last year's disappointment, and will have benefited from their time in the senior ranks. Guiding their fortunes will be Durrow man Matt Geraghty, who takes up the managerial reins from Gerry Feery, having previously led them to a junior championship triumph in 1986.

"We have to get back the appetite we had two years ago and for that to happen, a good start is critical. We learned a lot last year and hopefully we'll be able to put that to good use, although there is very little between any of the intermediate teams. It's a tough grade to get out of.
"Matt Geraghty is back with us after a long absence, having taken over from Gerry who had always said he would step down after two years. Apart from the likes of Louis Ennis, Enda McCann, Peter Heraty and Michael Ennis, who is a great role model for everyone in the club, our team is very young and I think we can only get better in the years ahead," he concludes.

The Ballinagore team which lost the SFC relegation play-off replay to Bunbrosna was: Paddy Maloney; Louis Ennis, Enda McCann, Pat Heduan; Peter Heraty, Michael Ennis, Martin Linnane; Eoin Miller, Stuart Gavin; JJ Hegarty, Dan Gavin, Rory Tynan; Tommy McDaniel, David Deegan, James Durkan. Subs used: Ciaran Deegan, Paul Robinson and Paul Maloney.