Naomh Aban rally late on to secure win over Ballinora
THE picture didn't look bright for Naomh Aban with under ten minutes remaining. They trailed Ballinora by a point at that stage, and, having gone over 20 minutes without a score, they appeared to be in dire trouble.
Displaying commendable character and resolve, however, they hauled themselves back from the brink in a gripping finale, with Micheal O'Croinin popping over three points to bring them within sight of victory with 57 minutes gone.
Ballinora made a last-ditch effort to salvage the game, pulling a point back through Ian Wycherley before Alan O'Neill and Michael Murphy, from a free, were both off target with chances, allowing Naomh Aban to hold out for a hard-earned win.
These sides had produced a splendid contest, which fittingly finished in stalemate a few weeks ago, but the blustery conditions ordained that the quality of the football was never going to reach the same heights this time.
In truth, it developed into a bit of a dog-fight, although the fact that the issue remained in the balance throughout provided some compensation for the shortage of frills. Defences generally held sway, with the Naomh Aban full-back line of Criostoir Ó Deasuna, Seamus Ó Mathuna and Tomas Ó hAilosa performing with much greater assurance than was the case in the drawn match.
That was a big plus for the Ballyvourney men, for whom the evergreen Ó Croinin was again very influential up front, even if his input wasn't nearly as sustained as in the previous game. Still, Ballinora matched Naomh Aban in most facets of the play, and they enjoyed slightly the better of matters at midfield overall where Michael Hodge and Aodan O'Connor both did well.
Only Ian Wycherley made a decent impact in attack, however, finishing the match with four points from play to his credit. He was Ballinora's sole marksman in the first half, getting them off the mark, in quick reply to a Naomh Aban point from Micheal Ó Liathain, inside five minutes.
Ó Croinin restored the lead to Naomh Aban when converting a difficult free from out near the sideline four minutes later, and they remained in front for the rest of the first half. Naomh Aban's Diarmuid Ó Liathain had picked up a black card in the 24th minute, but his replacement Diarmuid Ó Ceallaigh slotted over a tasty point three minutes later, and he continued to pay his way after that.
It was 0-6 to 0-3 at the break, and Ó Ceallaig earned a free which enabled Ó Croinin to draw first blood for Naomh Aban on the resumption. That was quickly negated by a Ballinora point from Aodan O'Connor before Naomh Aban were awarded a penalty after midfielder Micheal Ó Laoire was deemed to be fouled in the 34th minute.
Much to Ballinora's relief, Micheal Ó Croinin's effort struck the crossbar, and, drawing inspiration from the let-off, they gained the upper-hand for a spell, with Michael Murphy completing a four-point sequence to nudge them in front for the first time, 0-8 to 0-7, in the 47th minute.
They should have been able to drive on from there, but Naomh Aban dug deep, and it would be fair to say they showed the greater will-to-win when the crunch came. With former Cork star Antoin Ó Loinsigh, introduced early in the second half, playing his part at the back, Micheal Ó Laoire more involved at midfield, and Ó Croinin delivering the goods at full-forward, Naomh Aban gradually took the wind from Ballinora's sails.
Ó Croinin's hat-trick of points, the first from a free after he had been fouled himself, proved sufficient to get Naomh Aban over the line, leaving Ballinora, whose cause wasn't helped when Michael Hodge was forced to retire injured with about five minutes remaining, to reflect ruefully on a couple of wasted opportunities which sealed their fate.
Naomh Aban: M O'Croinin, 0-6, 0-3 frees, M O'Liathain, S O'Laoire, D O'Ceallaig and M O'Duinnin 0-1
Ballinora: I Wycherley 0-4, B Ahern 0-2 frees, M Murphy 0-2, 0-1 free, A O'Connor 0-1.
Naomh Aban: M O'Donnchu, C O'Deasuna, S O'Mathuna, T O'hAilosa, D O'Scanail, S O'Riada, L MacSuibhne, M O'Laoire, T O'Scanail, M O'Duinnin, M O'Liathain, S O'Laoire, N O'Ceallaig, M O'Croinin, D O'Liathain Subs: D O'Ceallaigh for D O'liathain (black card), A O'Loingsigh for D O'Scanail, D O'Suilleabhain for M O'Liathain (black card)
Ballinora: C O'Connor, T Crotty, M Lordan, D O'Neill, T McGrath, G O'Halloran, C Murphy, M Hodge, A O'Connor, B Ahern, A O'Neill, I Wycherley, P Fitton, C Brosnan, M Murphy. Subs: J O'Regan for McGrath (injured), B Crowley for Hodge (injured), D Holmes for C Murphy
Referee: J Bermingham (Bride Rovers)