Tuesday 26 September 2017

Drake overjoyed at reaching peak

Colm Keys

Colm Keys

A defensive masterclass from Ballaghaderreen earned them a third title as Ballintubber's grip on the Moclair Cup was surrendered rather tamely in Elvery's McHale Park.

Already stretched by the loss of Cillian O'Connor -- due to a shoulder injury -- prior to the semi-final, the champions found themselves rudderless for the last 18 minutes when the talismanic Alan Dillon was forced out of the action with a head wound sustained in a collision with two opponents just after half-time.

To be without one marquee forward was prohibitive enough, but when Dillon succumbed in the 47th minute, the trophy was only heading one way.

Even with Dillon on the field and pulling the strings, as he had been up to that point, Ballintubber probably would not have won this final anyway, such was the conviction of Ballaghaderreen's play in the final quarter.

Their lockdown on the progressively dispirited champions' attack was most effective, with captain Stephen Drake, his brother David, centre-back Keith Rogers and Owen Jordan -- who switched from his own attack for much of the second half -- impressively assured in everything they did.

For the captain, the seeds for the success were planted back in the winter months when they took to the slopes of Sliabh Ban just outside Strokestown in Roscommon, home town of their manager Mark Dowd, and engaged in some of the hardest training they ever experienced.

Armed with the benefit of that gruelling fitness work, Drake was confident that on the final stretch in any game Ballaghaderreen would not be found wanting.

"When it mattered we put our shoulders to the wheel. In previous years people might have criticised us for not being able to do that," he reflected.

"We showed we can have a killer instinct when it is put up to us. Fitness was never going to be a problem for us after spending January running up a mountain one side of Strokestown.

"We came here in the knowledge that if it was going to get tough in the last 10 minutes, we were going to have the extra reserves to push on hopefully."

Composure

It was generally a poor match, Ballintubber never seemed capable of displaying composure in front of goal, nor could they match the sheer force of will exercised by the Ballaghaderreen players in most of the physical exchanges.

In the end a four-point return was extremely poor from the champions, even allowing for the organisation of the Ballaghaderreen defence and the loss of O'Connor and, later, Dillon. They just didn't seem to have the same hunger as the challengers.

Still, by half-time Peter Ford's side probably sensed the three-in-a-row was well within their grasp as they trailed by just 0-6 to 0-3 after playing against the stiff wind.

Barry Regan gave Ballaghaderreen early momentum with a couple of booming frees from outside the 45-metre mark and they led by 0-4 to 0-1 at the end of the first quarter.

But Jason Gibbons looked to have a decent foothold in the middle, while Dillon was always probing and delivering those trademark measured passes of his that should have created far more openings.

Dillon's first point was the last before the break and shortly after the restart he got his second after substitute Daire Summerville had drawn a smart save out of Ollie Flanagan.

But amazingly Ballintubber didn't score again, with Dillon's collision with Andy Hanley forcing a break in play and ultimately his withdrawal with a head wound.

David Drake's penetrating runs forward were hurting Ballintubber, and early in the second half he struck a post after a great move involving Hanley and midfielders Barry Kelly and James Kilcullen, who grew in stature as the game progressed.

With David Kilcullen also prominent, Gibbons' influence faded significantly.

Missed frees from Summerville and Dillon were costly, but when Dillon was withdrawn there were still just two points in it, 0-6 to 0-4.

That was the cue for Ballaghaderreen to kick on and add a third county title to the ones they won in 2008 and 1972.

Joe Dillon and Rory Conway fired points as the absence of their own marquee name, Andy Moran, was made light of before Barry Kelly was gifted an open goal in injury-time, the ball falling to him after his colleague Cormac Doohan had been dispossessed in the goalmouth.

It was the spark for more intense celebrations as the 1/2 outsiders realised they couldn't be caught.

Drake suggested afterwards that the Connacht club championship would be treated with more respect than it was when they were champions four years ago.

"After we won the championship in 2008 I think we took our eye off the ball slightly for a couple of years. We probably let ourselves down a small bit four years ago against Eastern Harps," he said.

"We had not won a county title in a long time and maybe we celebrated a small bit too vigorously. Maybe we took the opposition a small bit for granted.

"This definitely won't happen in two weeks' time (against Curry)."

Scorers -- Ballaghaderreen: B Regan 0-5 (5f), B Kelly 1-0, J Dillon, R Conway, K Rogers, D Kilcullen (f) 0-1 each. Ballintubber: A Dillon 0-2, J Gibbons, D McGing 0-1 each.

Ballaghaderreen -- O Flanagan; T Regan, P Rogers, S Drake; P Kelly, K Rogers, D Drake; B Kelly, J Kilcullen; D Kilcullen, A Hanley, S Finn; O Jordan, B Regan, J Dillon. Subs: C Doohan for T Regan (37), R Conway for Dillon (49), B Solan for Finn (61).

Ballintubber -- B Walsh; L Tunney, C Hallinan, P Earley; D Geraghty,T Earley, M Kelly; M Hoban, J Gibbons; R O'Connor, A Dillon, D O'Connor; D McGing, P O'Connor, D Coleman. Subs: J Duffy for Hoban (28), D Summerville for P O'Connor (h-t), A Plunkett for Dillon (47), K McGuinness for D O'Connor (56), B Solan for Finn (61).

Ref -- K Connelly.

Irish Independent

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