Gallant Harps find Balla a bridge too far
Connacht Minor A Championship Semi-Final: Balla 2-9 Eastern Harps 2-6
The minor champions of Mayo and Sligo played out an entertaining Connacht semi-final at the Centre of Excellence, Bekan on Friday night.
Both sides ended all square at the interval. In a well-contested but low scoring second half the Mayo champions did just enough to book their place in the Connacht final.
Conditions were far from ideal with a heavy drizzle carried on a stiff breeze making life difficult for the players and the large gathering of spectators who attended at the well appointed Connacht G.A.A. headquarters.
Balla settled early and in their first attack had the ball in the Harps net.
The impressive Cillian Golding found full forward Patrick McLoughlin with a long ball and he transferred to the elusive Aaron Walsh who beat Alan Davey from close range
.Sean Tonra added a point and Aaron Walsh pointed from the right as Balla dominated the early exchanges.
James O'Hara opened the Harps account from a 20m free after a foul on the raiding Bryan Molloy who excelled throughout.
A determined run from corner back Conor Dunleavy resulted in a Jack Harte point for Balla.
Harps replied in splendid fashion. A strong run from team captain Evan Lavin, a lay-off to Ciaran Dorrian whose lob into the Balla danger area was fisted to the net by Luke Kielty.
Harps repeated the act minutes later. The impressive Ciaran Dorrian was again involved.
The Balla defence failed to deal with his delivery to the square and Ciarán Hannon was first to react to divert the ball to the Balla net.
Jack Harte replied with a pointed 20m free but points from Luke Kielty and James O'Hara (13m.free) left the Sligo champions level with their Mayo opposition.
Both sides added an extra point from frees prior to the interval, courtesy of Jack Harte from a 13mfree and Marcus Meehan from 30m free after James O'Hara was fouled.
Then Harps lost Shawn O'Hara,who had been influential, on a black card on the stroke of half time.
The half time score read E.Harps 2-4, Balla 1-7 which was a fair reflection of a well contested opening 30 minutes.
A combination of some excellent defending and some wayward shooting meant spectators had to wait 13 minutes into the second half for a change in the scoreboard.
The Mayo champions were more dominant now but proceeded to kick a number of bad wides.
Again Jack Harte gave Balla the lead with a pointed 20m free but it was short lived as Ciarán Hannon fired over when he gained possession from a throw in by the referee.
The crucial score, a goal for Balla, came on 52 minutes when Aaron Walsh made a decisive run from the sideline and beat Alan Davey from an acute angle.
Team captain Pat McLoughlin added a point to put Balla in command as time ebbed away.
Harps tried hard to reduce the four points deficit but their only reward was a point from a 20m.free from James O'Hara.
The Mayo champions marched on to the Connacht final in which they will play St.Brigid's on a 2-9 to 2-6 scoreline,which was probably a fair reflection of their greater control of exchanges in the final 30 minutes.
Best for Balla were Ryan Durkan,Thomas Reynolds,Conor Dunleavy and Niall Barrett in defence,Cillian Golding ,Shea Benson and roving full forward Pat.McLoughlin in the middle and Rian O'Connor, Aaron Walsh and Jack Harte in attack.
Harps were well served by goalkeeper Alan Davey,defenders Jonathon East,Bryan O'Hanlon,Eoin Dwyer and the outstanding Bryan Molloy; Evan Lavin and Luke Hogge had their moments at midfield while James O'Hara, Ciarán Dorrian and Ciarán Hannon were best in a lively attack.
Scorers: Balla :Aaron Walsh 2-1 Jack Harte 0-5 (0-4f.),Sean Tonra,Pat Mc Loughlin and Cillian Golding 0-1 each
E.Harps :Luke Kielty 1-1,Ciarán Hannon 1-1 James O'Hara 0-3 (f.),Marcus Meehan 0-1 (f.)
BALLA: Niall Fadden;Jack Hall,Ryan Durkan,Conor Dunleavy;Culán Higgins,Thomas Reynolds, Niall Barrett;Cillan Golding,Shea Benson;Shane Foy,Rian O'Connor,Sean Tonra;Aaron Walsh,Pat.Mc Loughlin(c.),Jack Harte.
Subs used:Luke Mc Hale and Conor Holian.
EASTERN HARPS:Alan Davey;Seán O'Connor,Jonathon East,Bryan O'Hanlon;Bryan Molloy,Eoin Dwyer,Marcus Meehan;Evan Lavin(c.)Luke Hogge;Kaelum Byrne,Ciarán Dorrian,Shawn O'Hara;James O'Hara,Luke Kielty,Ciarán Hannon.Subs used:Cian Higgins,Jake Stephenson,Kyle Cosgrove and Tomás Taheny.
Referee:Patrick McTiernan (Roscommon).