Fightback joy for Killererin
Connacht Club SFC semi-final
No one could have forecast the result of this semi-final when Ballintubber made for their changing-room in with a one-point interval lead.
Everything looked to be in their favour. They were playing better football, they had a significant wind at their backs to come and perhaps most importantly of all Padraic Joyce was thousands of miles away on honeymoon in South Africa, enjoying what was presumably far more pleasant conditions than what was experienced in wet and windy Tuam Stadium yesterday.
Joyce's absence should have heavily tipped the balance towards the Mayo champions, guided by the new county team manager, James Horan, under whose command they had lost just twice in 32 competitive games over the last two seasons.
But they scored just once in the second half, an Alan Dillon free on 57 minutes after Cillian O'Connor was fouled, as panic set in and Killererin's grim determination to survive changed the course of the game.
Dillon's free edged Ballintubber to within a point of their Galway opponents, who had stepped up the pace into the wind after the break to take a two-point lead.
And they still had plenty of opportunities to retrieve the situation as Roscommon referee Haulie Beirne allowed seven and a half minutes of added time, when he had originally signalled for just three.
Admittedly a spate of injuries to Killererin players in added time was cause for further additions but seven and a half minutes did seem excessive.
It was a masterclass in possession football throughout the second half by the Galway champions and Ballintubber players went long spells at times without touching the ball.
Playing without their talismanic leader probably had an uplifting effect on Killererin, with each player appreciating that they would have to significantly raise their game without the luxury of being able to depend on him.
Despite being well flagged that he was gone, there was still an air of expectation around that he would somehow arrive in Tuam ready to play having only left earlier in the week.
That expectation perhaps stemmed from the surprise appearance he previously made in the 2004 Galway final when it had been widely reported that he would miss the game because of injury. But he trained so covertly that even many of his team-mates were unsure of his participation right up to the first whistle. Not so this time, though his brother Tommie, Killererin's player-manager, did note his influence all the same.
"He's been on the phone so many times saying do this and do that but he was there in spirit and we got over the line anyhow," said Tommie, a key strategist in how Killererin closed this game out and slowed it to a pace that suited them in the second half.
In Padraic's absence, much of the attacking responsibility fell to his cousin, Nicky, and for much of the first half he was Killererin's chief threat with Ballintubber repeatedly forced to hack him down and concede frees.
Three of his four points were from frees but a six-point tally at the break never looked like enough given the elements that prevailed.
Ballintubber had begun sharply with a Jason Gibbons point and when Padraig O'Connor converted a penalty after a foul on Gary Dillon they were in the driving seat.
An O'Connor free on 22 minutes made it 1-4 to 0-5 but for the next 47 minutes, 38 of regular time and nine of added time, they registered just that Dillon free.
Captain John Feeney's absence was felt and Ballintubber really lacked leadership to take control in that second half. Three early wides from Dillon didn't help.
Midfielder Thomas Hughes surged forward five minutes into the second half for his second point to level, 0-7 to 1-4, before Nicky Joyce added a free for an unlikely lead.
The more Ballintubber went without a score the more they panicked.
Danny Geraghty flashed a shot wide on the three-quarters mark when he might have been better steadying himself for a point. That was symptomatic of how it was going for them.
Then, on 53 minutes Killererin goalkeeper Alan Keane stepped forward to drive over a '45' into the teeth of a rising gale and that put the home side a precious two points clear. They held their nerve impressively, putting the ball through hands comfortably and showing much greater resolve and commitment in hunting possession as conditions dictated that it would develop into a scrap.
From full-back Colin Forde to half-back Tomas Fahy, Hughes and Tommie Joyce at midfield and Nicky Joyce and Michael Boyle up front, their control frustrated Ballintubber.
The Mayo champions are entitled to take issue with some of Beirne's decisions late in the game. Half-back Ruairi O'Connor had claims for a penalty in the 55th minute when he appeared to be pulled down after fielding a Dillon delivery in the Killererin goalmouth.
In the end, though, Killererin's victory was well justified given the odds that were stacked against them in that second half. There isn't a club team around that protects possession better.
Tommie Joyce confirmed afterwards that Padraic Joyce will be back for the Connacht final against Roscommon champions St Brigid's in Tuam on Sunday week.
Scorers -- Killererin: N Joyce 0-5 (0-4f), T Hughes 0-2, G Butler, A Keane (0-1 '45') 0-1 each. Ballintubber: P O'Connor 1-2 (1-0 pen, 0-1f), A Dillon 0-2 (0-2f), J Gibbons 0-1.
Killererin -- A Keane; D Flaherty, C Forde, D Kelly; I Reddington, D Mannion, T Fahy; T Joyce, T Hughes; T Flynn, J Keane, N Joyce; M Boyle, J Hughes, G Butler. Subs: T Wilson for Hughes (38).
Ballintubber-- B Walsh; G Loftus, C Hallinan, P Earley; D Larkin, T Earley, R O'Connor; D Geraghty, J Gibbons; G Dillon, A Dillon, A Plunkett; M Nestor, P O'Connor, C O'Connor. Subs: D Coleman for G Dillon (45), D McGing for Plunkett (53).
Ref -- H Beirne (Roscommon).