Ballinameela 1-16; Ballyduff Lower 1-13 (AET)
Ballinameela are county intermediate champions after overcoming a dogged Ballyduff Lower challenge at the second time of asking at Fraher Field on Sunday last, but only after extra time.
The opening 30 minutes were tightly contested with the most critical score coming just 60 seconds from the end of normal time.
John O’Leary opened the scoring in the third minute when he pointed from play to give Ballyduff Lower an early lead.
However, the lead was a short lived on as John Stack pointed a 14-metre free on six minutes, an indiscretion which, in the view of all in the press box, ought to have been a penalty.
Ballyduff’s Emmet Power was next to score via a free and three minutes later, the sides were all square again when Eoghan Walsh pointed from play.
John Stack made up for his earlier miss when he pointed for Ballinameela in the 20th minute, also from a free, putting his team ahead for the first time.
However, Emmet Power quickly levelled for Ballyduff with a point from play six minutes before the break. Moments later, David Phelan landed a point at the other end to put the men in blue back in front.
But there was still time for drama before half-time. Brian O’Leary slammed the ball home after a lapse in concentration by James McGrath, while Caimin Radley kicked a fine point at the other end to leave the minimum between the sides at half-time.
Upon the resumption, Ballinameela came out all guns blazing and were on level terms within 30 seconds thanks to emerging talent Jim Curran.
Ninety seconds later, David Phelan added another to inch the men from the west ahead.
But the next 16 minutes was all Ballyduff as they hit five unanswered scores during that period, the first coming from the boot of former inter-county hurler Jack Kennedy.
A brace of points from John Stack with 10 and five minutes remaining reduced the Ballyduff lead to just two.
With two minutes remaining, Eoghan Walsh kicked Ballinameela’s 11th point of the afternoon to level the scoring, but the game was far from over, with plenty of drama yet to unfold.
As the game went into stoppage time, Pat Matthews kicked a point for Ballyduff, a feat soon repeated by Eoin Cummins – it looked like the trophy was heading up the N25.
Deep, deep in stoppage time, Marianas Trench deep, Eoghan Walsh invested every ounce of energy left in his body into the ball, which he marvellously drilled between the posts. Extra time was now required to separate the sides.
Extra time began well for Ballyduff, with Jack Kennedy and Eoin Cummins both scoring early to create a two-point advantage.
But again Ballinameela refused to lie down and by the time referee Tim O’Byrne sounded his half-time whistle, Eoghan Walsh had kicked another crucial point to leave just one between the sides.
The second additional half began in whirlwind action. Within seconds, David Walsh had tapped the ball into the net for Ballinameela to put them two points ahead once more – it was hard to keep track such was the excitement!
Midway through the second period, Jim Curran pointed for Ballinameela and just seconds later John Stack from a free to increase their lead to four with his fifth score of the game.
But it then appeared as if the script wasn’t being read by Ballyduff as Stephen O’Leary broke forward from his defensive position to kick a point with just a minute left.
And despite a swathe of late pressure, Ballinameela stood up to the challenge laid down by Ballyduff to claim the IFC title won by Clashmore last year.
Ballinameela: James McGrath; S Flavin, C Buckley, Jay McGrath; J Harrington, Eamon Walsh, T Curran; A Ahearne, B Phelan; J Curran, D Phelan, J Stack; D Walsh, C Radley, Eoghan Walsh. Subs: T Power for Jay McGrath, T McCarthy for Harrington, J Fletcher for Radley, S McGrath for T McCarthy.
Scorers: J Stack (0-5 f), Eoghan Walsh (0-5 each), D Walsh (1-0), D Phelan and J Curran (0-2 each), C Radley and C Buckley (0-1 each).
Ballyduff Lower: M Millea; C Power, R Barron, S O’Leary; G Fitzgerald, P Fitzgerald, K O’Brien; J Kennedy, P Matthews; P Kennedy, J O’Leary, N Clifford; E Power, B O’Leary, E Cummins. Sub: R Ryan for B O’Leary, P Kirwan for G Fitzgerald, G Harris for R Ryan, E Kenny for P Kirwan, G Shannon for K O’Brien.
Scorers: E Cummins (0-4; 0-1f), E Power (0-3; 0-2f), B O’Leary (1-0), J Kennedy (0-2), J O’Leary, P Fitzgerald, P Matthews and S O’Leary (0-1 each).
Referee: T O’Byrne (Erin’s Own).
* Before the game, a minute’s silence was observed for Michael McGrath, whose son Johnny played for Ballinameela in the past and is currently very actively involved with the Naomh Brid club in Modeligo and Touraneena.