After the euphoria of their back-to-back wins in the Derry Senior Championship campaign a couple of weeks back, Ballinderry experienced the disappointment of defeat at Healy Park on Sunday last in their opening match in the Ulster club championship.
Seamus Mullan was in Healy Park
Photographs: Russell Pritchard (Presseye)
And that the margin was just a point, and that they had chances in added time to put the gloss on a stirring comeback from a five point deficit with 10 minutes remaining, made that despairing feeling more acute.
Yet the Shamrocks will realise this was a result that Tyrone champions Errigal Ciaran probably deserved because, for much of the game, even when the sides ended all square at 0-05 each at half time, they were the better side in the key areas.
The indomitable spirit and resilience of Ballinderry twice hauled them back into a game in which they were playing second fiddle in the middle of the field to the superb Errigal captain, Enda McGinley ,who was mopping up everything, both in the air and on the ground.
Ballinderry deployed Martin Harney and, at times, Ryan Bell in the middle third but they only fleetingly had a foothold and even then the ball they got inside was laboured against a dominant Errigal Ciaran half-back trio of Stefan Tierney, Peter Harte and Davy Harte.
Rarely did Ballinderry win clean ball in the midfield zone, McGinley ruling the airways for the most part. Even when Enda Muldoon did break the ball down Errigal had scavengers on the ground, with Peter Harte and the very effective Brian Horisk particularly effective in that department when they took control in the third quarter for 0-10 to 0-05.
Ballinderry manager Martin McKinless accepted that the Shamrocks did not play well in the first half
“Absolutely gutted!”, he admitted, “But that’s the way things go when you don’t perform. We did not play the way we expected to play in the first half.
“But the most disappointing thing about the first half was that we were not winning any breaking ball. We were not in the right side to win any breaking ball. Not only were they out-catching us, at times they were also winning the ball that Enda broke down and they were breaking their own ball into space and then getting to it. We tried to correct that at half time.”
The early minutes were closely fought, Collie Devlin scoring the first of his three opening period points in the 7th minute in response to a point from the very effective Horisk.
Then Errigal took the lead through Thomas Canavan and forged 0-04 to 0-01 ahead by the mid-point of the half, Canavan and Caolan Tierney on target. Yet Ballinderry did create chances and, despite hitting five wides in the first half, they found themselves all square at the break.
Devlin landed two excellent points to narrow the gap and Conleith Gilligan levelled in the 20th minute with an excellent shot from the flank. In added time C Devlin scored his third point for 0-05 each after Ciaran McGinley had put Errigal ahead in the 27th minute.
The large crowd at Omagh must have been anticipating a tight struggle right from the start of the second half but that did not materialise as Ballinderry manager Martin McKinless explained.
“They came out after half time and steamrolled us and went five points in front. Then we collected ourselves, made a few changes and started to move the ball that wee bit quicker, something we had been preaching from day one but we had not been doing it in the first half. I don’t know what the problem was. Mentally they were not tuned in”, said the disappointed Ballinderry man.
They definitely were not as Errigal blitzed them with a five point salvo between the 34th and 40th minutes.
There was a delay just after the start of the second half for treatment to a couple of Ballinderry players who collided with each other. Thomas Canavan, who top scored with 0-05, put Errigal Ciaran ahead from a free and that was followed in rapid succession by points from Davy Harte, a massive effort from 50m, Canavan and Horisk (2), the last one a spectacular left-footed volley when put through by the irrepressible Peter Harte.
At 0-10 to 0-05 in the 40th minute, and with Conor Wilkinson now on the side-line having picked up two yellow cards in the space of two minutes, Errigal looked on course for a facile victory,
In that scoring period after half time Enda McGinley was imperious with Peter Harte given the freedom of the park to carry the ball forward from deep positions.
The dashing centre back reflected, “It was unreal. We were five points up and a man up but after that we lost the run of ourselves for 10 minutes or so. Then we had ‘Daisy’ sent off. I don’t know what he did, or if he did anything. They then had a purple patch there to score five points and draw level. But we showed good resolve and were lucky enough to get over the line.
“It was that kind of game. Whoever was on top in the middle of the field had the advantage and was getting the scores. That showed in the pattern of the scores. We went 4-1 up and they came back to level. We then went 10-5 up before they came back to level. The middle of the field was a big sector throughout the game.”
Peter Harte had a storming game at centre half back, repeatedly in the right place to cut out Ballinderry’s passes and driving forward from deep defence, especially in the critical third quarter,
When the role of Harte in the third quarter was put to the Ballinderry manager Martin McKinless he retorted, “He came forward surely but the problem with the whole thing for us was that we were not getting the ball forward quick enough. You saw in the last 10 minutes what we could do when we got the ball forward quickly.
“Certainly the changes we made helped the situation. ‘Lloyd’ (Michael McIver) was going forward, Dermot (McGuckin) was going forward and Kevin ‘Moss’ caught two or three great balls. But when you come into this standard of game, it’s a different class of player you are up against. You cannot give the opposition the chances that we gave away. But five points down and 10 minutes to go Ballinderry showed great character to come back and draw level. You cannot allow that to happen when you are up against a better class of player.”
Ballinderry started their comeback ten minutes from time with a Dermot McGuckin point, full back Kevin McGuckin then showing his forwards how to score with a fantastic point from the ‘45’ metre line. Then Muldoon converted a ‘45’ three minutes from time, Dermot McGuckin making it a one point game a minute later.
The game was at fever pitch when Devlin levelled the scores in the last minute, five minutes of additional time announced. Ballinderry did have a chance to take the lead but Michael McIver lost possession deep in Errigal territory.
One more bursting run from Peter Harte drew a free and Tommy Canavan landed his third pointed free for the winning score. Right at the death Darren Conway had possession on the kick-out from a Canavan wide but he lost the ball and the final whistle was the signal for Errigal celebrations.
However Peter Harte was pragmatic about the Errigal performance, “It was a tight game in the first half. Ballinderry are a very good side and we are just delighted to get over the line. But I don’t think that performance will be good enough the next day, no matter who we play.”
When asked if Ronan McGuckin, who stood aside for this game, would be back for the next game, he stated emphatically, “Ronan will be back on Tuesday night. It’s done and dusted now. Thank God we’re over the line and we can now prepare for the next round.”
When it was suggested that Errigal Ciaran would be boosted by this victory Harte replied, “There’s a lot of good teams left in the competition. We’ll just take one game at a time. We were not expected to do much in Tyrone but we’re in a good place now. We’ll keep the feet on the ground and keep playing away and hope to get there.”
As for Ballinderry manager Martin McKinless he would not be drawn on his own position for next season, merely pointing to the Ballinderry league games still to be played.
Errigal Ciaran scorers: Thomas Canavan 0-05 (4f), Brian Horisk 0-03, Ciaran McGinley, Caolan Tierney and Davie Harte 0-01 each
Ballinderry scorers: Colin Devlin 0-04, Conleith Gilligan 0-02, Dermot McGuckin 0-02, Enda Muldoon 0-01 ‘45’ and Kevin McGuckin 0-01
Errigal Ciaran: John Devine; Aidan McCrory, Michael McCrory, Ciaran Quinn; Stefan Tierney, Peter Harte, David Harte; Cormac McGinley, Rnda McGinley (captain); Ciaran McGinley, Thomas Canavan, Caolan Tierney; Damien McDermott, Brian Horisk, Ronan McRory. (Subs) Darren Canavan for A McCrory; Brian Mullin for M McCrory, 57 mins
Ballinderry: Michael Conlan; Conor Wilkinson, Kevin McGuckin, Declan Bell; Raymond Wilson, Conor Nevin, Gareth McKinless; Enda Muldoon (Captain), James Conway; Aaron Devlin, Ryan Bell, Martin Harney; Colin Devlin, Raymond Wilkinson, Conleith Gilligan. (Subs) Kevin ‘Moss’ McGuckin for J Conway, 39 mins; Dermot McGuckin for M Harney 41 mins; Michael McIver for D Bell 48 mins; Darren Conway for ADevlin 53 mins
Referee: Ciaran Brannigan Down