Tourlestrane pay heavy price for semi-final stage fright
Ballina Stephenites 1-8 Tourlestrane 1-4Whether overawed by the importance of the occasion or inhibited by the reputation of their highly fancied opponents, the Sligo champions suffered a massive stroke of stage-fright, and although they lacked nothing in courageous commitment they too often struggled to master even the most basic functions of the game.Surrendering po
By Jim Gray
Ballina Stephenites 1-8 Tourlestrane 1-4
Whether overawed by the importance of the occasion or inhibited by the reputation of their highly fancied opponents, the Sligo champions suffered a massive stroke of stage-fright, and although they lacked nothing in courageous commitment they too often struggled to master even the most basic functions of the game.
Surrendering possession with alarming regularity and squandering a litany of clear scoring chances, Tourlestrane were authors of their own misfortune to a large extent. The lingering impression was that this was a golden opportunity wasted, as Stephenites proved to be no great shakes themselves and might well have been conquered had Tourlestrane played with more conviction.
They certainly had their chances. The total of nine wides, at least five of which were from scoreable positions, tells its own story, but only half the tale. The signs were ominous from very early on, with Gerry McGowan kicking three free kicks off target within the first four minutes. And at the start of the second half they missed two better chances, one of which was a 14 yards free which McGowan incredibly chipped into the goalkeeper’s arms.
Another illuminating statistic is that all but one of the Sligo team’s scores came from placed balls, and only two players managed to get on the scoreboard. Add in the fact that they dominated possession, particularly in the second half, and that some of Ballina’s scores stemmed directly from Tourlestrane mistakes, and there is irrefutable evidence that Michael Henry’s team contributed substantially to their own downfall.
Tourlestrane were given the perfect pre-match fillip when Eamon O’Hara was included in their starting line-up, and although clearly suffering from lack of match fitness, he spared nothing in his attempts to rally the troops.
Even below his best form, the county star was still one of Tourlestrane’s more prominent players, while his county colleague, Brendan Egan, also caught the eye with a typically swashbuckling performance around the middle of the park.
There were a number of impressive individual contributions, notably from goalkeeper, Seamus Gildea; defenders, Eamon Haran, Colin Neary and David Durkin, and midfielders, Adrian McIntyre and Stephen Henry — but the unit as a whole failed to gel.
The forward line was particularly disappointing, lacking penetration and wasting far too many chances. Only one of the starting six got on the scoresheet and even at that, McGowan’s 1-3 came from placed balls, with the only score from play coming from substitute, Matthew Walsh.
For their part, Ballina were sufficiently experienced to take full advantage of Tourlestrane’s shortcomings. They were cute, even cynical, regularly using their superior physical strength, and not always within the rule-book, to curtail Tourlestrane players.
In the Brady brothers, David and Ger, they had genuine play-makers whose intelligent probing and use of possession made a real difference, while forwards such as Patrick Harte and the elusive Paul McGarry carried the sort of menace which was so badly lacking in the Tourlestrane attack.
It was this glaring contrast in the potency of the respective forward lines which was to prove decisive. Ballina had the ability to make the most of their possession, as illustrated by a first half return of 1-3 from fairly limited possession.
The goal came in the 18th minute, the product of a sweeping move involving David O’Mahoney and Ger Brady through the heart of Tourlestrane’s defence, culminating in an accurate finish from 12 yards by Shane Sweeney, whose low shot crept in off the inside of the left hand upright.
It gave Stephenites a 1-3 to 0-3 interval lead and they had stretched that to four points midway through the second half before Tourlestrane revitalised their challenge with Gerry McGowan’s expertly taken penalty in the 50th minute.
The award came at the end of a flowing move, instigated by Adrian McIntyre and carried on by Walsh and Egan before McGowan was dragged down en route to goal by Kenny Golden. McGowan, on a day when not too much else went right, kept his nerve to dispatch the kick low to the left hand side of the diving goalkeeper.
The goal brought Tourlestrane within a point, 1-5 to 1-4, but,tellingly, that was to be their last score of the match as Ballina found a crucial extra gear in the closing minutes to engineer three crucial points.
The Sligo champions started briskly, but their early enthusiasm was curbed by those three missed frees. Patrick Harte opened the scoring from a close-in free for Ballina in the 6th minute, before McGowan eventually found the range to land the equaliser from a 25 yards free six minutes later.
Harte quickly added his second point, evading a flurry of tackles after good work by McGarry, and then returned the compliment, setting up McGarry for Ballina’s third point in the 16th minute.
Two minutes later, Sweeney rattled in Ballina’s goal before McGowan tapped over a 14 yard free for Tourlestrane’s second point and the repeated the feat two minutes from the break, after Egan’s penetrating run had drawn the foul.
The second half began in much the same fashion as the first, with bad misses hampering Tourlestrane’s revival. First, McGowan inexplicably lofted a 14 yards free into the grateful hands of the Ballina keeper and shortly afterwards Stephen Henry blasted wide from a good position after being set up by O’Hara. This was followed soon after by another bad wide from Brian Kennedy after the influential Egan had again carved open the defence.
Veteran substitute, Matthew Walsh showed how it should be done, firing over with his left foot after good work by Brian Kennedy and Thomas Henry in the 39th minute, but this proved to be Tourlestrane’s only point from play in the entire game.
A spectacular point by Ger Brady, who accelerated beyond the defensive cover on the right flank before finishing with a fisted effort, followed by Eanna Casey’s free, stretched Ballina’s advantage to four points.
But just as the game seemed to be slipping beyond Tourlestrane, McGowan’s penalty goal gave them fresh impetus with ten minutes left for play.
But Tourlestrane were unable to maintain the momentum, and it was Stephenites who found the extra gear when it was most needed. Seamus Gildea produced a point-blank save to deny David Brady in the 52 minute, but a brilliant exchange of passes between Harte and McGarry ended with the latter blasting over a crucial sixth point for Ballina six minutes from time.
David Brady added another impressive score soon afterwards and Harte’s expertly struck 40 yards free two minutes from the end finally sealed victory for the home side.
Ballina Stephenites: D. Clarke; K. Golden, M. Wynne, D. O’Mahoney; B. Ruane, C. Leonard, S. Sweeney (1-0); R. McGarrity, D. Brady (0-1); G. Brady (0-1), P. Harte (0-3), E. Casey (0-1); S. Hughes, P. McGarry (0-2), S. Melia.
Tourlestrane: S. Gildea; S. King, E. Haran, C. Neary; B. Kennedy, S. Dunne, D. Durkin; A. McIntyre, B. Egan; G. Gaughan, S. Henry, T. Henry; E. O’Hara, G. McGowan (1-3), J. Marren Subs, M. Walsh (0-1) for Marren (27 mins); M. Henry for M. Walsh (55 mins); N. Egan.
Referee: E. O’Grady, Leitrim.