Steelstown’s hopes of a fairytale Senior Championship debut - especially after their recent win in the league - were dashed in emphatic fashion by a rampant Ballinascreen who were even more commanding winners than the 16-point margin might otherwise suggest.
From the moment that Michael McShane laid off the ball to Kieran Conway from the far edge of the square and he found the net from close range the writing was on the wall for the Ballyarnett side. That put ‘Screen 1-00 to 0-01 ahead and they were never headed thereafter as they turned the screw on the city side.
Steelstown played Liam Heffernan, listed at corner forward, as an extra defender but Ballinascreen manager Tony Scullion pushed Kieran Conway - listed at No. 2 - up into the attack and ironically he was in the right place to score the goal after Stephen Cleary had opened Steelstown’s account with a pointed free following a foul on his brother Aidan.
Even though the sides were level 0-04 to 1-01 after ten minutes, Stephen Cleary from a free when the referee spotted John Francis Bradley holding Stephen McCauley off the ball and from open play scoring for Steelstown, there were already signs that the city defence was fragile through the middle.
Ballinascreen manager Tony Scullion said he was delighted how his side had responded to last week’s league reversal.
“We went to Steelstown last week to win in the league but Steelstown deserved their victory,” explained Scullion, “They were absolutely superb. Of course we learned the lesson from last week, from watching them and the lads played very good football tonight. It’s a good win.”
Steelstown manager Hugh McGrath reflected bluntly on the performance of his players.
“I think you have to give credit to the opposition we were up against,” admitted McGrath, “There are nights when things don’t go for you but there are also nights when the opposition are forcing you into these errors and not giving you the time on the ball you’re used to. I think there was a huge amount of naivety on our guys’ behalf to think that the pace of this game would be the same as the league game and that they could hang in there until the last ten before giving it a rattle. It was a a harsh lesson for us, but a lesson nonetheless!
“I said it after last week’s game, a major thing was that the element of surprise had totally gone. We changed the way we play this year and we’re still in the throes of getting used to it. I don’t want to use the word ‘system’ because it’s an ugly word that just ruins football but we have a style of play and it just didn’t work for us tonight. Ballinascreen learnt the lesson from our league game and we have to learn the lessons from tonight to get ready for Loup next Saturday.”
Three times the Steelstown defence was carved open in the opening ten minutes. In the 5th minute Kevin Lindsay allowed Eamon Murray to drift in behind him when Benny Murray floated the ball toward the goalmouth from a free but the corner forward rattled the bar with the goal at his mercy. Then Murray found himself one-on-one with Marty Dunne when he fielded superbly from a probing ball but he blasted over from close range for 1-01 to 0-03.
But, in the 12th minute, there was no reprieve for the porous Steelstown defence as Phillip Bradley took the ball from Carlus McWilliams and raced through unhindered to blast to the roof of the net for 2-01 to 0-04. For the remainder of the half Ballinascreen showed great teamwork and pace as they continued to pick off scores for a commanding 2-08 to 0-05 interval lead.
The Steelstown manager agreed that Bradley’s bursting runs from the middle of the field contributed massively to Ballinascreen’s dominance in the scoring zone.
“That’s a fair enough comment,” conceded McGrath, “Obviously we’d like to get a unit that’s much stronger than it currently is. I don’t think it was the be all and end all of the game tonight but it may have been a contributing factor to certain scores in the game. It’s useful for a team when they see someone burst through a tackle, it creates a positive vibe for the rest of the team. That’s something we’ll aspire to but it’s our first year at this level, we’re not going that long as a club in general. We’ll get there.”
Steelstown were under the cosh in the last ten minutes of the half and full-back Lindsay was booked for an off-the-ball foul on Emmett McKillion that allowed Eamon Murray to extend the lead to 2-06 to 0-05 five minutes from the break.
Ballinascreen were in almost complete control throughout the second half, although the third quarter was very scrappy and produced just one score.
Steelstown brought on Brian Scallan for the start of the second half and Darren McDaid three minutes later, with Daniel and James Jackson introduced towards the midpoint of the half, and Neil Murray 12 minutes from time.
While Steelstown restricted Ballinascreen to 0-05 until the late Benny Murray goal they made no headway against a well organised ‘Screen defence. But, although well beaten, McGrath took positives from the display.
“Unless you’re in these sort of fixtures, you’ll not know what intensity you need to bring your own game to, collectively and individually. Although the scoreline doesn’t flatter us - and it hurts right now - in the long run it’s probably something that we needed. Four games without a defeat was a strange feeling. But the lesson is that you can’t drop your guard at any stage at senior level. You’re not at intermediate, where you can maybe coast once or twice. You have to be on your game every night you go out and we just weren’t tonight.”
Two minutes into added time Eunan Murray drilled the ball across the goalmouth from the left and Benny Murray came in on the blindside of his marker on the end line to palm the ball to the net for the third goal.
Ballinascreen scorers - Phillip Bradley 1-2, 0-1 free, Benny Murray 1-1, Kieran Conway 1-1, John Scullion 0-2, Carlus McWilliams 0-2, Michael McShane, Eamon Murray, Dermot Scullion, Eunan Murray, Emmett McKillion and Mickey McBride 0-1 each
Steelstown scorers - Stephen Cleary 0-5 (4f) and Stephen McCauley 0-1
Ballinascreen - John Paul McConnell; Kieran Conway, John Francis Bradley, Phillip McGlade; Michael McShane, Michael McBride, Dermot Scullion; Phillip Bradley, Benny Murray; Benny Heron, Dermot McBride, John Scullion; Eamon Murray, Emmett McKillion, Carlus McWilliams. (Subs) Sean Woods for P McGlade 53mins; Eunan Murray for C McWilliams 55mins
Steelstown - Martin Dunne; Mickey McKinney, Kevin Lindsay, Tony Ling, Shane O’Connor, Paul O’Hea, Neil Forester; Conor McGoran, Ryan Devine; Michael Moore, Aidan Cleary, Stephen Cleary; Mark Foley, Stephen McCauley, Liam Heffernan. (Subs) Brian Scallan for L Heffernan H-T; Darren McDaid for C McGoran 33mins; Daniel Jackson for M Foley 43mins. James Jackson for S McCauley 34mins; Neil Murray for T Ling 51mins
Referee - Declan O’Connor (Dungiven).