End of the road

Connacht Club SHC semi-final replay Ballina Stephenites              2-12 Athleague                             2-10 The injury toll and absences from the Athleague team that won the Roscommon SHC title earlier in 2007 eventually cost David Kelly’s side a place in the AIB Connacht Club Final when they found this tough semi-final replay against Ballina Stephenites a bridge too far in Athleague last Saturday afternoon.   Without top scorer and talisman Mervyn Connaughton, and also missing  county senior stars Alan Cunniffe and Colm Moran before the game started, the Athleague cause was not helped during the action by the sending off of Ivan Connaughton and a serious facial injury sustained by Declan McGeeney in the second half.   However it would probably be unfair to Ballina not to acknowledge that they deserved to win this semi-final replay.     The first half was a dour enough affair  and the respective free-takers Gary Fallon for Athleague and David Barrett for Ballina dominated. By half-time Athleague led by a slender two-point margin, 0-8 to 0-6.   The sides traded points early in the second half until Gary Fallon’s free in the 38th minute found its way into the Ballina net to give Athleague a four-point lead. However Ballina replied  with two excellent points to keep themselves in the frame.   Athleague were further weakened in the 12th minute of the second half when Declan McGeeney had to leave the field with a nasty facial injury.    Athleague were under pressure after that and seven minutes later Ballina pounced for a goal when Barry Walsh was on hand to pull from close range past David Connell to score the Mayo side’s first goal.   Two minutes later referee Michael Haverty sent off Athleague’s Ivan Connaughton for dissent and it was always going to be hard for the Roscommon champions after that. Ballina were on top now and two minutes before the end of normal time they got their second goal when sub John Duffy cracked home a good score.    Athleague did rally in injury-time and Shane McGeeney’s goal in the 34th minute reduced the margin to a single point, however corner-back Keith Barrett pointed from a long range free afterwards to set the seal on a good win for the Ballina men.    The Mayo champions now face Galway champions Portumna in the Connacht Club Final next Sunday.   The Athleague players were disappointed at having lost but the long season allied to a lengthening list of injuries and absences for various reasons took its toll at the end of what was a good year overall for the home side. Ballina Stephenites: T Duffy (0-1); K Barrett (0-1), D Cafferky, B Barrett; H Ruane, K Golden, S Doherty; K Tighe, V O’Hara (0-1); P Reape (0-1), K Healy (0-3), A Healy; B Walsh (1-0), R Campion, D Barrett (0-5). Subs: J Duffy (1-0), K Sheridan. Athleague: D Connell; T Mulligan, N Connolly, P Glennon; D Delaney, D McGeeney, J Connolly; JP Murray, L Fannon; I Connaughton, G Gallon (1-8), D Flaherty (0-1); S McGeeney (1-1), T Reddington, J Glennon. Subs: T Connaughton for Fannon, ET Murray for D McGeeney. Referee: M Haverty (Galway).