Ballyholland 0-14 v 2-7 Shamrocks

Minor Football: SD MFL D2 (Final)

23rd September 2006 at 3.00pm - Warrenpoint

Published by Anthony McNamee on 23rd September 2006.

Ballyholland’s minor footballers lifted sectional honours on Sunday afternoon at Warrenpoint in the most dramatic of fashions.

Having spent almost the entire sixty minutes trailing local rivals the Shamrocks, patience and perseverance was rewarded when the Harps finally grasped the lead as we entered injury time, courtesy of man of the match Conor Sands stroking over his eighth point of the game. It proved enough to take the title.

Despite dominating possession and creating more chances throughout, in facing a tough Shamrocks rearguard and an even tougher referee who seemed stuck in Senior Championship mode, it rarely really looked as though the Harps would manage to drive themselves past their opponents.

But that they did, and in truth, stealing victory from the jaws of defeat made it just that little bit sweeter…if it’s possible, that is, to get any sweeter than beating the Shamrocks in a final!

Playing against the wind in the first half, Ballyholland took an early lead through a PJ Walsh point but were rocked back when the Shamrocks hammered home a goal just a couple of moments later.

It gave the Warrenpoint Road men a lead they were not to relinquish until the very last moments of the game, for it seemed that any time Ballyholland managed to plug a score back, the Shamrocks had the ability to cancel it out straightaway.

Although it should be noted that both sides had to work extremely hard for those scores. Shamrocks were bigger at midfield and had pace to burn up front, the kind of elements that always lead to the direct style of play that they favoured, but the early ball rarely found a way past a defence superbly marshalled by Anton Haughey and Lyndon Madden.

In contrast, Ballyholland favoured patiently carrying the ball out of defence and working scores through this possession. Yet throughout the first half they struggled to get scores as a result. Credit to the Shamrocks, their defensive strength posed a huge problem, but so too did errant shooting and going for goals when points were on, as well as the small issue of having to be decapitated to earn a free.

This left the Harps down by three points at the interval, 1.05 to 0.05

As a result, the Harps simply had to raise their game after the interval, and after an early scare when a fine run from Shamrock’s Ian Curran culminated in his shot coming back off the post, they duly did.

To a man, the Harps played exceptionally well in the second period. Players with senior team experience like Tony Havern, Anton Haughey and Joe Murphy offered every last ounce of commitment and leadership they could to the cause, while the youngest men on show, Robbie White and Kevin McAteer, defied their age and the fact they have three more years at minor level by putting in commanding performances.

But although as a team they performed heroics, it was the scintillating performance of midfielder Conor Sands that really caught the eye during the second half. His style of play occasionally bordered on the languid, but when he pressed the turbo button, few Shamrocks men could stay with him.

And despite enduring the misfortune of hitting the crossbar with a thunderbolt, a couple of frees from Sands as well as a point from Tony Havern brought Ballyholland to within a solitary point of their rivals, and they seemed to have the momentum of winners.

Yet as they had done throughout the game, the Shamrocks managed to stay in front when their corner-forward capitalised on defensive confusion to rifle a low shot past Ruairi Matthews. With just 10 minutes left to play, this was the kind of hammer blow that would sink many a team, but while the Shamrocks were busy celebrating the score, Tony Havern was in no mood to accept defeat and was already carrying the ball up the field after a short kick-out from Matthews.

Everyone else followed his lead and during those final ten minutes, scores from White, Murphy, Havern himself, and a brace from Sands – a wonderful ’45 and a lovely, curling winner just as normal time came to an end – brought the Harps to the fore. And although the Shamrocks continued to win ball aplenty at midfield, they were repelled continuously by a remarkable spree of blocking by Anton Haughey, and the sheer persistence of Shorty McManus, Butler Turley and Stevie McClelland.

And due to these efforts, it was Ballyholland’s captain Conan McAteer who had the honour of lifting the cup above his head.

Ballyholland:

R Matthews; S McClelland, L Madden, S McManus; M Turley, A Haughey, K McAteer; C Sands (0-8, 5f, 1'45) J Murphy (0-1); C McAteer, T Havern (0-3), R White (0-1); PJ Walsh (0-1), C Madden, J Madden. Sub used: L Collins.

Player of the Match: Conor Sands

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