Old Leighlin 2-9
By Charlie Keegan
OLD Leighlin lived on their nerves for the final minutes of this exciting senior championship third round tie at McGrath Park, Bagenalstown on Saturday evening as they clung on to a one-point lead to guarantee themsevles a knock-out spot in this year’s championship, while consigning plucky Ballinabranna to a relegation play-off for senior championship survival.
This was a genuine local derby between these neighbouring clubs and if Old Leighlin were clearly the better side in the opening half, they were on the back foot for the final 10 minutes as Ballinabranna cut a seven-point lead to a single point. But with the game up for grabs in those nail-biting final minutes, they shot four wides before time ran out on them.
Old Leighlin were never headed in this game and they moved with greater purpose throughout the opening, their fielding, passing and scoring on a higher level than their opponents.
Centre forward Seamus Kinsella fisted an early point and then raised another well-taken white flag from distance. Darren Lunny opened the Ballinabranna account with a pointed free on five minutes. There were further points for the men in blue and white from Aaron Amond, David Bamrick and Cathal Coughlan.
A Darren Lunny point from play was Ballinabranna’s lone reply to leave it 0-5 to 0-2 after 11 minutes.
On 13 minutes patient outfield play by Ballinabranna had its reward when Gary Dunne’s centre found tall full-forward Robert Sansom, and the man who keeps goal for the Carlow senior footballers steered the ball along the ground before shooting to the net to level matters.
Equality did not last long for Ballinabranna. From the kick-out Old Leighlin stormed upfield and, following some frail Ballinabranna defending in their own goalmouth, they conceded a penalty which Cathal Coughlan dispatched expertly to the net.
Old Leighlin really made hay on the Ballinabranna kick-outs throughout that opening half, winning practically all the midfield possession or breaking ball. Ballinabranna simply could not win their own kick-out and the concession of so much possession inevitably put strong pressure on their defence.
On 20 minutes a sweeping Old Leighlin movement ended with Aaron Amond shooting to the Ballinabranna net from close range as they established a double scores lead: 2-6 to 1-3.
At half time Old Leighlin deservedly led 2-6 to 1-5, all five Ballinabranna points having come from the educated left foot of Darren Lunny.
Old Leighlin got off to a flying start in the second half picking off three quick points from play through Cathal Coughlan, midfielder Mikey Bambrick and wing back Seán Bambrick to catapult themselves into a seven-point lead.
One sensed it was game over but, as things transpired, that was to be Old Leighlin’s last score.
Ballinabranna gradually edged back into the game, driven on from the back by fine play in particular from Bobby Daly, Jimmy Cahill, Colin Byrne and Darren Geraghty.
The Ballinabranna cause was helped by the introduction of Eric Robinson to midfield and David Cox to attack. Cox, in particular, gave his side more scoring options and he was fouled in his first action allowing Robert Sansom to point the resultant free.
Ballinabranna kept eating into the Old Leighlin lead with Sansom converting from frees and from play while there was a morale-boosting long-range free from Gary Dunne to reduce the leeway to just two points (2-9 to 1-10).
A wonder point from Darren Lunny out of play on 54 minutes cut the arrears to a minimum and it was all hands to the pump for Old Leighlin as they defended their slender lead.
Declan Kelly, Seán Bambrick and Tadhg Roche were heroic in the Old Leighlin defence while David Bambrick, Hughie Gahan, the influential Michael Meaney, named at full forward but positioned in midfield, and Cathal Coughlan ensured they held their nerve throughout the final, hectic minutes as Ballinabranna continued to build momentum. But those four late wides left Old Leighlin ahead by the slimmest margin.
Old Leighlin: James Clarke; Declan Kelly, Niall Roche, Paraic Coughlan; Seán Bambrick (0-1), Ian Atkinson, Tadhg Roche; David Bambrick (0-1), Mikey Bambrick (0-1); Hughie Gahan (0-1), Seamus Kinsella (0-2), Michael Meaney (Monemore); Cathal Coughlan (1-2, 1-0 pen), Michael Meaney (Black Bush), Aaron Amond (1-1). Sub: Ger Hickey for P Coughlan (54 mins).
Ballinabranna: Adrian Brennan; Bobby Comerford, Bobby Daly, Jimmy Cahill; Colin Byrne, Darren Geraghty, Graham Amond; Ben Dorgan, Jacko Mikolajczyk; Darren O’Keeffe, Gary Dunne (0-1), Kealen Brennan; Darren Lunney (0-6, 0-3 frees), Robert Sansom (1-3, 0-2 frees), Jim Dunne. Subs: Eric Robinson for Mikolajczyk (41 mins); David Cox (0-1) for J Dunne (41 mins); James Kehoe for O’Keeffe (52 mins).
Referee: Paud O’Dwyer (Palatine).
NOTE: A word of congratulations to those associated with the upkeep of McGrath Park. The venue was in splendid order with quite an amount of recent work evident including the markings on the pitch and the re-sodding of both goal areas. A job well done.