23 October 2021
Mayo Senior Football Championship Quarter-Final
Ballintubber 0-12 Knockmore 2-9
With 65 minutes gone, it appeared as if the opening words of yet another epic chapter in our club’s history were about to be penned.
The chance at another great escape beckoned as young Ryan McDonnell stood between a 14-man Ballintubber and two periods of extra-time.
Only seconds previously, Diarmuid O’Connor stood with ball in hand against a Knockmore goalmouth which resembled the battalion of Spartans which held back an army of thousands as they manned a narrow passage during the ancient Greek battle of Thermopylae.
With three points in it and 65 minutes gone, he had no choice but to go for goal with this late free kick.
As expected, his missile came rebounding off a Knockmore body before Declan Corcoran, rather unexpectedly, awarded a penalty kick for an infringement by a Knockmore player.
Suddenly, now the body of Knockmore’s substitute goalie Ryan McDonnell was all that stood between a us and a chance to take the county champions to extra time.
However, it simply wasn’t meant to be.
Despite driving the ball goalwards with all his might and fury, McDonnell produced an excellent save before the screech of the full-time whistle shattered our dreams for another year.
We’ll never know what might have been, but to have brought the game level in the 65th minute would have been some achievement considering we had trailed by six points, had lost Jason Gibbons to a second yellow card, had lost Bryan Walsh through injury and had lined out without one of Mayo’s greatest forwards.
But sadly, our championship journey has been ended by Knockmore for the second season in a row.
It was the goals that cost us yet again as we conceded early in the first half and early in the second.
Had either of them been kept out, we could have been even closer to our opponents when we narrowed the gap in the closing stages.
Nevertheless, this was another admirable effort from a group of players who have never given less than their all for the red and white jersey.
Played out in the unforgiving surrounds of the Connacht Centre of Excellent under some occasionally heavy rain, this game came to life from the beginning.
Once again, in the absence of Cillian O’Connor, Stephen O’Malley led the way in the full-forward line while Alan Plunkett, Ciaran Gavin and Keelan McDonnell all chipped in with early scores.
However, Knockmore’s forwards weren’t long reminding us of just how dangerous they are, with Aidan Orme and Sligo county panellist Peter Naughton causing trouble whenever they got possession.
It was Orme that did the damage for their first goal after Naughton knocked long ball down to the Mayo panellist, who then blasted the ball past Frank Walsh.
A pair of Naughton points, both aided with a powerful breeze, pushed the county champions further ahead.
Their attack was somewhat dented when Darren McHale went off with an ankle injury, but Naughton and Company still looked threatening.
Despite the difficult conditions, our lads still played some good football, with Stephen O’Malley and Noel Geraghty hitting the target before the break.
Trailing 1-6 to 0-6 at the break, we were dealt an almighty setback early in the second half when a point attempt from Naughton fell short but slipped through Frank Walsh’s hands and into the back of the net.
Against opposition of such quality, we now had a mountain to climb.
As the weather got worse, the scores dried up for a period, with even the likes of Kevin McLoughlin struggling to influence the game as he would’ve liked.
As Willie Plunkett put it: “If you had dogs out, you’d call them in!”
Despite losing Bryan Walsh to injury mid-way through the second half, we brought the gap back to four when his fellow Mayo panellist Michael Plunkett pointed before DO’C hit a score from way over on the right, like only he can.
Many despaired when Jason Gibbons was sent off after a getting a second yellow with 50 minutes on the clock, but the men from the ‘Tubber kept the heads up.
Not only did Knockmore fail to capitalise on their numerical advantage, they leaked points to Stephen O’Malley, Keelan McDonnell and Alan Plunkett in the final ten minutes.
A Peter Naughton free put three between and gave Knockmore some comfort, but the red and white fire refused to die.
As David McHale and Diarmuid O’Connor circled the edge of the square like vultures in injury time, a faint glimmer of hope emerged when we were awarded a free just outside the box after O’Connor was fouled.
His first shot rebounded as expected, but when Declan Corcoran awarded a penalty, the cavalry parted to reveal a single foot soldier standing in the way, Knockmore goalie Ryan McDonnell.
Like two cowboys in an old Western duel, there could only be won winner.
Unfortunately for us, that winner was Ryan McDonnell, who produced an outstanding save from Diarmuid’s effort to thwart a valiant Ballintubber comeback in the depths of injury time.
Ballintubber team that lined out: (1)Frank Walsh (2)Gary Loftus (3)Brian Murphy (4)Finian Bourke (5)Damien Coleman (10)Keelan McDonnell (0-1) (7)Hugh Geraghty (8)Diarmuid O’Connor (0-1) (9)Jason Gibbons (22) Bryan Walsh (0-1) (11)Michael Plunkett (0-1) (12)Noel Geraghty (0-1) (13)Ciaran Gavin (0-1) (14)Stephen O’Malley (0-5, 4f) (15)Alan Plunkett (0-1)
Substitutions used: Joe Geraghty for Gary Loftus (half-time), Jamsie Finnerty for Bryan Walsh (2nd half water-break), Myles Kelly for Finian Bourke (55 min), David McHale for Keelan McDonnell (59 min)
Referee: Declan Corcoran