Not since the Nou Camp in 1999 have two corners caused such devastation and ecstasy as they did in Castlerea and Ballymoe last Sunday.
With 83 minutes on referee Eugene Deering’s watch, the unflappable Liam Lynch produced his first meaningful touch in the Castlerea penalty area. He then curled the ball delicately past Evan Curran before clenching a fist in the direction of the Celtic fans at the opposite end of the ground. A goal which provided a sliver of silver light for Ballinasloe but threatened to blind those looking on in Ballymoe.
Three minutes later and Castlerea once again failed to clear their lines and the ball fell at the feet of the new Ballymoe cult hero, Lynch. Other less cultured right boots might have put the ball in the field beyond but the Ballinasloe forward, rather than pushing his luck, clipped it towards the back post where Cormac Clogher slid in to rip the script to shreds and spark celebrations nine kilometres away.
The final day of the Roscommon & District League wasn’t supposed to end like this. Castlerea players and supporters arrived for their game against Ballinasloe in expectation while their neighbours in Ballymoe hadn’t even put the decorations up to welcome Moore United expecting another day of being the nearly men.
With 82 minutes on the clock in Castlerea and about six less in Ballymoe, the trophy was going nowhere. Both hosts had one goal leads, Ballymoe through a 28th minute strike from Maurice Connaughton and Castlerea through Ronan Curran on 56. Five minutes later and it had all changed completely as Ballymoe claimed their first ever Premier Division title thanks to Ballinasloe’s persistence and Liam Lynch’s right foot.
Joint manager, Kevin Earley, admitted his side had all but written off the league title when news of Ronan Curran’s strike filtered through.
“When Castlerea were leading we thought it was over. We thought the fact that they had a one goal lead and were going for the league title that they’d be unstoppable,” he said.
There were informers among the Castlerea faithful, however, and news of Ballinasloe’s late revival wasn’t long travelling down the N60.
Kevin explains: “Seán’s father was at the game in Castlerea and I had a friend texting too. We heard they had equalised and thought ‘great we’re going to have a play-off’. A minute later and Ballinasloe took the lead and we were celebrating.”
Ballymoe weren’t home and hosed yet, however, they were still holding onto their lead against a talented Moore United outfit.
Kevin said “We just wanted the ref’s whistle at that stage. It was the longest six minutes I’ve ever experienced.”
Kevin’s co-manager, Seán Collins, could scarcely believe his own father last Sunday.
“My father rang me (from Castlerea) and he told me Ballinasloe had equalised. He couldn’t believe he was watching it and I couldn’t believe it either,” he said.
As for the league campaign, Collins described it as a “funny kind of league” and highlighted the fact that Ballymoe had almost doubled their points total from 2016.
“We got so used to playing away from home. Last year we had 26 points and this year we have 46, that’s a great achievement,” he said before setting his sights on even more silverware: “It was a good celebration but it has to end sometime because there are plenty of big games on the horizon. It was a great day for the community too; a lot of people have worked hard for the club. It’s now onwards and upwards,” he said.
Ballymoe’s hard work off the field came to fruition last Sunday as the Premier Division trophy arrived at their new facilities via their near neighbours in Castlerea. It was the most dramatic of finales and offered irrefutable evidence that the bar has been raised in Roscommon in recent seasons. Castlerea Celtic and Ballinasloe Town have played their part in that along with champions Ballymoe and a determined Moore United side.
As Sean Collins said: It’s now onwards and upwards. The season is not over yet. There are more quality games to come for each of the top four while Ballinasloe Town will represent the league in the Connacht Cup Final later this month.