TWENTY-nine scores, five red cards, the drama of a last minute goal and a masterclass from Steelstown scoring machine, Stephen Cleary. Sudden death Championship football is not for the faint-hearted.
Michael WIlson was at Celtic Park
Photographs: Glenn McIntyre
Hugh McGrath’s city side did eventually set up an Intermediate Championship quarter-final clash with Swatragh after 80 pulsating minutes but they did it the hard way in a game that swung from one side to the other before Steelstown’s superior fitness and numbers finally caught up with a spirited Ballerin outfit.
But where do you begin? Things had been proceeding routinely enough through a Steelstown dominated opening half which saw them lead 0-6 to 0-2 thanks in the main to Cleary’s excellent free-taking.
The second half was a different matter. Ballerin’s refusal to lie down was apparent immediately on the restart as three points inside four minutes from Eugene Mullan, Ryan Deighan (free) and Shane Ferris all but wiped out Steelstown’s first half advantage and it was game on.
From there the game ran into one talking point after another with the city side ahead 0-9 to 0-6 . . .
42mins - Ballerin’s Eugene Mullan in the clear for a great goal chance but Marty Dunne is quick off his line, forcing the forward to shoot straight at him.
45mins - Steelstown midfielder Stephen McCauley is the first man to go after picking up two yellow cards inside two minutes, both for fouls on Ballerin dangerman Mark Ferris. The dismissal allows Ballerin, through Deighan and Paul Ferris, to cut the lead to 0-9 to 0-8.
49mins - Steelstown steady the ship and rebuild their three point but it could have been even better as Aidan Cleary’s wayward effort is superbly gathered by the impressive Patrick Brennan in front of goal. Unfortunately the midfielder flashes his shot across the face of goal and a great goal chances is lost.
59mins - Brennan’s day gets even worse when he is shown a straight red for a closed fist tackle on Shane Ferris which catches the Ballerin man on the top of the head. Probably clumsy and over zealous more than malicious but Steelstown are now without both midfielders.
63mins - McGrath’s men still lead by three at 0-12 to 0-9 but the momentum is with Ballerin as substitute Joe Doherty is hauled to the ground by a needless, neck-high tackle by fellow substitute Mark Foley. Doherty reacts as the Steelstown man lies on the ground and both are correctly red carded.
64mins, 30secs - It’s now or never for Ballerin and the ensuing free sees the ball launched high toward the Steelstown goal. With players desperately scrambling for possession, James Cassidy is the coolest head on the pitch, gathering the ball and firing low into the corner to bring the sides level at 0-12 to 1-9.
3mins - With the teams back to 15-a-side again, Steelstown’s greater playing resources begin to tell a tale as the City side start to turn the screw. Stephen Cleary is close to unplayable and after grabbing a point only 18 seconds into extra-time, he then sets off on a superb solo run which ends with a superb finish into the net. At 1-13, it’s now a long way back for a Ballerin team running out of players and energy.
15mins - With Steelstown now well on top and five points clear, Aidan Cleary receives a harsh second yellow card for an innocuous foul on Shane Ferris and becomes the FIFTH player to head for an early shower. He had been booked earlier for a foul on Pascal McKay and with two yellows for probably his only two fouls in the game, the Steelstown playmaker can count himself very unlucky.
20mins - Conan Doherty caps a fine individual display by striding forward to send over the game’s last point and seal a seven point victory and a quarter-final date with Swatragh.
The final margin of defeat was particularly tough on Ballerin who, after being out-played for much of the first half, found their feet on the restart and in Mark Ferris had one of the best players on display. Without the likes of Cathal Faulkner and Gary Keane, this was a spirited display and one which could have brought a surprise win had their first half showing matched their second.
There was only ever going to be one winner in extra-time, especially with Stephen Cleary in such fantastic form but Ballerin didn’t deserve to lose by seven. They will point to what they viewed cynical fouling out the field by Steelstown but that’s not what lost the game for them. That was down to the missing men and a lack-lustre opening half.
Steelstown achieved their objective but Hugh McGrath with be anxious to see the likes of Daniel Jackson, Michael Moore, Darren McDaid and Chris Beales back but it was their squad strength that brought them through. They will feel they got a raw deal from referee Shane Mullan and probably rightly so because while most decisions were right by the letter of the law, the same application of that law in other matches would see teams finish 10-a-side.
McGrath knows there is more to come from his side as they continue to chase a double. Apart from the excellence of Cleary, this victory was all about the unsung heroes of the squad like Conan Doherty and Liam Heffernan who play vital roles in the Steelstown style of play and allow others to hog the headlines. This level of performance won’t win a Championship but it did highlight the strength in depth which might.
Steelstown Brian Ogs: Martin Dunne; Rory O’Connor, Tony Ling, Michael McKinney; Kevin Lindsay, Neil Forrester (0-1), Paul O’Hea; Patrick Brennan (0-2), Stephen McCauley; Brian Scallan (0-1), Stephen Cleary (1-9, 7f), Conan Doherty (0-1); Liam Heffernan, Aidan Cleary (0-1), Mark Brennan. (Subs) Pearse O’Doherty for K Lindsay, 18mins; Mark Foley (0-2) for M Brennan, H/T; Ryan Devine for T Ling, 34mins;
Ballerin: John McGinley; John Bradley, Stephen Mullan, Brian Deehan; Pascal McKay, Gareth Mullan, Mark Ferris (0-1); William McGilligan, Sean Mullan; James Cassidy (1-1), Paul Keane (0-1), Shane Ferris (0-2); Ryan Deighan (0-3, 3f), Eugene Mullan (0-1), Paul Ferris (0-1). (Subs) Anton Bradley for B Deehan, 42mins; Joe Doherty for S Mullan, 60mins;
Referee: Shane Mullan