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Brady's prayers answered as Ballina star breaks finals' curse

FITTINGLY, it ended with David Brady hugging possession as Ballina ran down the clock to bring an epic second half to a close. More than anyone else Brady has epitomised Mayo misery in All-Ireland finals over the last decade, failing to win any of the previous six he has played in.



FITTINGLY, it ended with David Brady hugging possession as Ballina ran down the clock to bring an epic second half to a close.

More than anyone else Brady has epitomised Mayo misery in All-Ireland finals over the last decade, failing to win any of the previous six he has played in.

He was by no means the central influence in a Stephenites team laden with big performers in this thrilling AIB All-Ireland club football final. But by his own frank admission Brady had been "a loser" in these situations all his life and the snapshot of him pumping the air at the end had salvation written all over it.

All week he declared how he would "die a happy man" if he won an All-Ireland medal. Now he can rest in peace!

Mayo football can collectively breath a sigh of relief too this morning that the wrench of losing All-Ireland finals is over. Crossmolina had broken the sequence in 2001 but it looked like an isolated achievement stacked against the list of defeats before and since.

The resolve and resilience Ballina displayed to come from behind twice in that second half had it source in so many things, chiefly the club's defeat in their last All-Ireland club final appearance to Crossmaglen Rangers in 1999.

On that occasion they played Crossmaglen off the park for long spells but had victory prised away from them in the dying moments. To return six years later with virtually a new team and to have the nerve to prevail in such testing circumstances embellishes this achievement handsomely.

It was one of the most enthralling club football finals for years, once again eclipsing the hurling equivalent to provide great drama for those among the 31,236 that stayed.

Most pre-match talk focussed on the winning pedigree in the Portlaoise team. Only one of their starting players had never won a title of some description in Croke Park before and their careers have been dominated by great days in Laois shirts. They looked to have the edge in class.

But sometimes force of will can overcome anything and when Ballina took the field some minutes late for the start of the second half there was renewed vigour in their demeanour. They made a pact not to lose which they didn't break.

They conceded the first score after the restart to Colm Parkinson to fall three points (1-6 to 0-6) behind but showed enough in response to facilitate the belief that this would be their day.

Even when Kevin Fitzpatrick cracked home a superb goal from an almost identical build up and position to where he missed in the dying stages of last year's Leinster final replay with Laois Ballina remained unfazed.

They seemed galvanised by the loss in recent weeks of key defenders Kenny Golden and Enda Devenney to injury. Devenney in particular had been a revelation in the Connacht championship and his absence looked to tip the balance in Portlaoise's favour. He made a token appearance in the last quarter but struggled to make an impact.

Ballina won't have to look too far for tales of heroism when they recall this day of redemption.

Brian Ruane and Shane Sweeney were magnificent along the half-back line and Eanna Casey added great drive there when he dropped back to replace the injured Shane Melia in the first half.

Ronan McGarrity was a colossal presence at midfield throughout and showed patience and vision in possession that he hasn't been generally credited with. Stephen Hughes scored a great goal, Liam Brady picked off crucial points and claimed the official 'man-of-the-match' award but there wasn't a better all-round performance than Pat Harte's yesterday.

The 22-year-old showed aptitude at both ends of the field, driving over the equalising point on 50 minutes before fielding superbly beneath his own crossbar and clearing as the Connacht champions repelled Portlaoise's best efforts.

Portlaoise, perhaps consumed by the confidence gained from beating Crossmaglen in the semi-final and the injuries picked up by Ballina will be disappointed that so many key players failed to perform.

Aidan Fennelly and Colm Byrne retained a high standard of defence throughout while Fitzpatrick scored those two great goals, one a well-taken first half penalty.

But Martin Delaney and Ian Fitzgerald never got going and Parkinson lacked the finishing touch to make his industry count.

Tellingly, it took Portlaoise 30 minutes to score from play through Craig Rogers. By that stage Fitzpatrick had despatched his 14th minute penalty with great conviction after a smart build up involving Peter McNulty and Rogers who was fouled by James Devenney.

By the break Ballina were still well in touch, trailing by just two points, 1-5 to 0-6, the same deficit they faced against Crossmolina in a key Mayo championship game last year.

Five minutes into the second half they got their big break when Ruane's delivery found substitute Patrick McHale and he fed Hughes who stepped inside Michael Nolan and tapped into an unguarded net for a 1-8 to 1-6 lead.

Brian McCormack stemmed the tide with a point for Portlaoise but momentum was with the westerners and they might have added goals when Nolan was dispossessed in a goalmouth scramble only for Eoin Bland to clear and Nolan then stopped smartly from McHale who had nipped in from the end line.

A Ruane point stretched the lead to two for Ballina again on 44 minutes but Fitzpatrick's goal must have sowed huge doubts in Ballina's mind.

McNulty grabbed a first point from play to inflict more damage on bruised Mayo confidence but they didn't score again as Ballina's defence locked up and Liam Brady (twice) and Harte got the important points to push them ahead again.

It needed a goal line clearance from sub Aiden Tighe to preserve their lead at the end when McNulty should have taken his point but Ballina deserved what came their way.

SCORERS - Ballina: L Brady 0-5 (3f), S Hughes 1-0, P Harte 0-2 (1f), G Brady, D Brady, P McHale, E Casey, B Ruane all 0-1 each. Portlaoise: K Fitzpatrick 2-0 (1-0 pen), P McNulty 0-4 (3f), C Parkinson, C Rogers, B McCormack, B Fitzgerald all 0-1 each.

PORTLAOISE - M Nolan; T Fitzgerald, C Byrne, E Bland; B Mulligan, C Healy, A Fennelly; M Delaney, K Fitzpatrick; B McCormack, I Fitzgerald, C Rogers; P McNulty, C Parkinson, B Fitzgerald. Sub: M Fennelly for Delaney (42).

BALLINA - J Healy; J Devenney, M Wynne, C Leonard; B Ruane, S Sweeney, S Melia; R McGarrity, D Brady; P Harte, G Brady, E Casey; P McGarry, L Brady, S Hughes. Subs: P McHale for Melia (26), E Devenney for McGarry (42), A Tighe for Leonard (53).

REF - B Crowe (Cavan).