NO-ONE ever said football was fair.
If it was, scenes like were witnessed at the end of Saturday evening’s Senior Football Championship semi-final wouldn’t happen.
Mark Lynch wouldn’t have to try and console himself before entering his own dressing room. Sean Marty Lockhart wouldn’t have to wait to get his hands on the Championship medal his career so richly deserves. And Paul Cartin wouldn’t see the best form of his career go unrewarded. No, if football was fair, Banagher would be in the Senior County final.
Except Ballinderry don’t do fair. They don’t to football fairytales either.
Michael Wilson was in Celtic Park
Photographs: Stephen Latimer
If, before a championship ball had been kicked this season, someone had suggested the Shamrocks would have to rely on a piece of vintage Enda Muldoon magic to scrape past a Banagher team increasingly looking like relegation material they would have been scoffed at. But, after 60 pulsating minutes, that was all that separated the sides. No-one on either team could have given more. Banagher had emptied the tank and a magical Muldoon pass to Raymond Wilkinson one minute and 58 seconds into the second half was all that denied them.
The great man’s influence may be waning with the inevitable onset of age but with a pass so beautifully flighted he could not have bettered it had he walked forward and handed his team mate possession, he is still making the difference. It was sublime.
That it took one of the moments of this year’s Championship to separate these clubs says everything about Banagher’s approach. The metamorphosis that has taken place since the arrival of Emonn Lynch and his backroom team has left this team unrecognisable from that which contested most of the league. In the end, Ballinderry’s experience on the big stage, coupled with a deeper substitutes’ bench, proved too much.
However, had they made the most of their first half dominance against the breeze it could have been very different as the Banagher manager conceded after the game.
“I think we deserved something out of it but we probably just didn’t do enough in the second half to get anything,” admitted Lynch, “They were maybe a bit stronger on the bench, they had a bit more to throw in that could impact on the game. Aspects of our game that had been very good just didn’t work tonight. “Our forward line didn’t function as a unit the way they had been. I thought Banagher’s performance and the fight in the first half was fantastic. They couldn’t have been any more up for it and the heart was there. Again, maybe it comes down to those dying minutes, that bit more belief, that bit more know-how that the Ballinderrys of this world have.”
That know-how may have been a kind way of describing some of the quite cynical tactics which the champions employed to curtail the likes of Mark Lynch. From the first whistle it was obvious Cartin had been singled out for special attention from Gareth McKinless whose efforts to wind the Banagher man up brought an early first half booking for Cartin. Mark Lynch and Padhraic Murphy were also the victims of a steady stream of off-the-ball fouls designed to stop them gaining possession and frustrate the Banagher attack. Despite this Lynch was superb, scoring six and constantly lifting his team with a number of morale-boosting points. If there was a man on either side who deserved to reach the county final, it was Lynch.
For the Shamrocks, the twin terrors of Conleith Gilligan and Collie Devlin were quiet by their own high standards with Wilkinson the pick of the blue and white attack. His goal undoubtedly decided the game.
“The goal came at a horrendous time,” added Lynch, “It lifted them and got them right back into the game. If we’d been able to hold the lead we had and peg a point or two on, you never know. We had possession in our half-forward line and we gave it away, which led to the goal. Again, it’s another one where we turned over soft ball and they punished us. At this level, if you make mistakes like that, you’ll get punished. That’s the difference.
“Two words sum them up to perfection - Enda Muldoon. There was a 10-minute period there where he had such a big influence on the game. We tried two or three men on him to nullify him. That said, we’ll have sleepless nights thinking about silly things, mistakes. The back pass to ‘Sticks’ in the first half that led to a turnover and ultimately a free that gave them a point. The margins are small and tonight they went against us. All credit to Ballinderry, to be honest, they probably just shaded it. We were the better team against the breeze in the first half but they probably shaded the second half. When the legs started to tire, they probably had more on the bench.”
Banagher’s first half must have had bookies all over the county sweating. The 5/1 outsiders settled brilliantly after Wilkinson’s opening point to build a 0-4 to 0-1 lead which could have been more emphatic had Mickey Conlan not superbly turned Conor Lynch’s goal bound effort over the bar for Banagher’s equalising point.
Ballinderry were racking up the wides and St. Mary’s looked the more composed but crucially did not get the scores their approach play warranted and as the game wore on the front two of Eunan Murphy and Shane Farren became more and more isolated against a Ballinderrry rearguard which seemed to have their measure.
Still turning round for the second half 0-4 to 0-2 up with the wind at their backs, Banagher looked good to push on. Then came Muldoon’s moment. It brought Ballinderry back into the game and even though Banagher led again by 0-7 to 1-03 and 0-09 to 1-04 Ballinderry’s greater threat going forward carried them over the line, just!
Banagher: Darrell McDermott; Micheal Anderson, Sean Marty Lockhart, Ruairi McCloskey; Sean McCullagh, Ryan Lynch, Oisin McCloskey (0-1); PJ McCloskey, Paul Cartin; Conor Lynch (0-1), Mark Lynch (0-6, 3f), Gavin O’Neill (0-1); Padhraic Murphy (0-1), Shane Farren, Eunan Murphy. (Subs) John Lynch for C Lynch, 54mins; Steafan McCloskey for G O’Neill, 57mins.
Ballinderry: Mickey Conlan; Conor Wilkinson, Kevin McGuckin, Ryan Scott; Raymond Wilson, Conor Nevin, Gareth McKinless (0-1); James Conway, Enda Muldoon (0-1); Aaron Devlin, Ryamond Wilkinson (1-2), Conleith Gilligan (0-3, 2f); Collie Devlin (0-1), Ryan Bell, Martin Harney. (Subs) Dermot McGuckin for M Harney, 47mins; James Bateson for C Devlin, 51mins; Darren Conway for J Conway, 51mins.
Referee: Brendan Quinn (Ballinascreen)