Ballinagore dodge relegation bullet
30 April 2011
After narrowly avoiding demotion to the junior ranks last year, Ballinagore are hoping to steer well clear of relegation trouble in the coming season according to midfielder and new club secretary Stewart Gavin.
Picture the scene. It's deep into injury-time and Ballinagore are trailing local rivals Kilbeggan Shamrocks by a point in their intermediate football championship relegation playoff. Junior football in 2011 beckons for the Pairc Bhodhrain outfit. But just when it seems all is lost, wing back Ciaran Carey pops up with a brilliant equalising point to force extra-time.
Buoyed by that dramatic equaliser, Ballinagore go on to win by 0-15 to 0-13 and in doing so, preserve their intermediate status for the coming year.
"Staying up was probably the highlight of our year," says midfielder Stewart Gavin, who was recently elected as the club's new secretary in succession to Jason Winfield.
"It's not something we would be making a big deal about, though, because our aim at the start of the year was to win the championship. Those expectations obviously weren't met so 2010 will go down as a poor year overall.
"We held our own in Division 3 of the league, but again we would have been hoping for better. We'll be seeking a big improvement in 2011," he continues.
Last year, Ballinagore's playing resources were stretched to the limit due to injuries and emigration, and with county players Michael Ennis and James Durkan unavailable for the foreseeable future they will start the new season understrength once again.
"We were missing Rory Tynan, Martin Linnane, Paul Robinson and David Deegan for a variety of reasons last year," explains Stewart, who captained Ballinagore to a famous Peter Geraghty Cup success in 2007 after transferring from St. Mary's, who he also won an intermediate championship medal with in 2004.
"David has a bad injury and may not be able to play again. And if that wasn't bad enough, we will be without Michael Ennis and James Durkan for the first half of the year at least. Michael has a shoulder injury and James is gone to Australia for 10 months. Hopefully, we'll have them back for the championship because they are two players we simply can't afford to be without.
"We have one of the smallest picks of any club in the county and we need everyone available to us."
The tone for a disappointing season was set when Ballinagore lost their opening Division 2 championship match to Tang by 0-8 to 0-13 at Moate's Hogan Park. Tang ended Ballinagore's 2009 championship interests at the quarter-final stage and they once again had the upper hand, despite some erratic finishing. The sides were level on 0-4 apiece at half-time and they were still deadlocked on 0-7 apiece at the end of the third quarter.
But Tang took over completely after that, outscoring the Brosnasiders by 0-6 to 0-1 in the closing 15 minutes to run out comfortable winners.
A heavy second round defeat to Castletown-Finea/Coole/Whitehall led to the departure of Matt Geraghty as manager. The Durrow man was replaced by Gerry Feery, the former Tyrrellspass player who masterminded Ballinagore's 2007 intermediate triumph, with Sean Claffey and Stephen Brudell continuing as selectors.
Ballinagore were shockingly poor against a Finea team who lost both Darren Kilcoyne and Andrew Dermody in the opening five minutes following a clash of heads, which resulted in a delay of over 50 minutes as two ambulances arrived to take them away to hospital.
When play resumed, the north county outfit surged into a 1-4 to 0-0 lead with Eric Sullivan netting in the 24th minute. Jason Winfield finally opened Ballinagore's account a minute later, but Finea hit back to lead by 1-5 to 0-1 at the break.
Finea continued to do as they pleased in the second half and wrapped up victory when Kevin Brazil slotted a 56th minute penalty past Paddy Maloney. Ballinagore applied late pressure, but goal attempts by Thomas McDaniel, Michael Ennis and Stewart Gavin were foiled by Finea 'keeper Enda Sheridan and his defence.
The spectre of relegation was looming larger than ever for Ballinagore when they crashed to their third straight defeat at the hands of Ballymore. Inspired by Derek 'Ching' Molloy, Ballymore chalked up a 1-11 to 0-11 victory in the Kilpatrick rain and not even six points from play by James Durkan could save the men in white and maroon.
Ballymore took a 0-6 to 0-4 lead into the break and extended their advantage through Molloy on the restart. But then Durkan took centre stage with a brilliant five-point salvo which put them two up. A Brian Finnerty free closed the gap, only for Durkan to quickly restore Ballinagore's two-point lead. However, disaster struck when the Ballinagore defence failed to clear their lines, allowing Ballymore substitute Ciaran Finnerty to bounce for the only goal.
This score had a demoralising effect on Ballinagore and Ballymore made sure of the win with further points from Brian Finnerty and man of the match Molloy before the final whistle.
Ballinagore turned the formbook on its head when they hammered St. Mary's 1-19 to 1-6 at Castletown-Geoghegan to boost their hopes of survival. Rising county star Thomas McDaniel tore the Rochfortbridge defence to shreds with a personal haul of 1-12, 1-9 of which came from play.
McDaniel's 20th minute goal left Ballinagore 1-9 to 0-4 in front at the break and despite conceding a goal to John McNamara early in the second half they continued to run riot with James Durkan, Michael Ennis and Eoin Miller feeding the on-fire McDaniel at every opportunity. If Ballinagore had produced such quality in their previous matches, relegation worries would have been the last thing on their mind going into their final group match against Rosemount.
In their only outing of the year at Cusack Park, Ballinagore tamely bowed to the black and ambers on a 0-6 to 0-13 scoreline, a defeat that left them facing a relegation playoff against Kilbeggan. A Michael Ennis point had the losers 0-5 to 0-4 ahead at the interval, but it was all Rosemount in the second half who ran out comfortable winners, despite the dismissal of full back Stephen Darcy.
It was now do-or-die for Ballinagore and a large crowd made the short trip to Castletown-Geoghegan to witness what would prove to be a thrilling local derby clash. Kilbeggan were rampant in the first half and there appeared to be no way back for Ballinagore when they trailed by 0-1 to 0-8 at half-time. But inspired by the twin attacking threat of Durkan and McDaniel, Ballinagore roared back to level before Mattie McCormack edged Kilbeggan back in front with time almost up.
But there was still enough time for Ciaran Carey to emerge as an unlikely hero after he kicked a stunning equalising point to force extra-time. Ballinagore were never headed after that, leading by 0-13 to 0-12 at the end of the first 10-minute period and adding two further points in the second to retain their intermediate status.
"We got a big fright last year and the last place we want to find ourselves is in another relegation dogfight this year," the new Ballinagore secretary says.
"As usual, we will be targeting a place in the knockout stages and anything less will be considered a failure. We showed against St. Mary's what we are capable of and if we could play like that in every game, we would be championship contenders. Our standards have slipped since 2007 and we will be striving to get back up to that level in the months ahead."
Ballinagore may not have been represented on the Ennell Shamrocks combination team which won the minor 'premier' championship, but there was success for the local St. Patrick's National School in both the Cumann na mBunscol football and hurling competitions.
"There's great work being done in the National School which bodes well for the future," Gavin enthuses.
On a sad note, the club mourned the passing of Tom Keegan in December. A stalwart of Ballinagore GAA, he was chairman when Pairc Bhodhrain was opened in 1993.
The Ballinagore team which defeated Kilbeggan Shamrocks in their IFC relegation playoff was: Paddy Maloney; Pat Heduan, Enda McCann, Ciaran Deegan; Ciaran Carey, Michael Ennis, James Sheerin; Stewart Gavin, Eoin Miller; James Durkan, Ian Seery, Thomas McDaniel; Shane Herity, JJ Hegarty, Cathal Ennis. Subs used: Brian Sheerin and Paul Maloney.