THE road sign in the East Galway townland of Coolcarty, on the route from Banagher to Ballinasloe, warned of ‘potholes ahead’. A portend of what lay ahead as Banagher College placed their All-Ireland title on the line against St Brigid’s, Loughrea in Duggan Park last Saturday.
Banagher came so agonisingly close to reaching another Final having showed such courage in adversity, for they fell four points behind early on before battling back to level matters at the break. They were still level at the end of sixty minutes, fell five points behind during extra-time before clawing back to within a single point at the finish.
The defending champions hit the first hazard before they left home; Ethan Mannion forced to cry off through illness. They were fortunate, however, to recall the influential Seán Dolan to defence.
Banagher started brightly, but a combination of poor shooting and a number of through balls which evaded backs and forwards to go harmlessly wide, saw their wides tally reach five in as many minutes.
Then, when behind 0-2 to 0-3 they were rocked when Loughrea’s livewire attacker Brian Molloy collected Thomas Mitchell’s low delivery and fired to the Banagher net in the seventh minute.
Colm Daly, Simon Lyons, Seán Dolan and the outstanding Seán Gardiner battled hard in the Banagher defence while Rory Wynne and Daryl Duane showed well in attack, though Cathal Kennedy and Gary Moylan in particular stood firm in the Loughrea defence.
Still, the sides twice traded scores before Banagher were boosted by a goal, Trevor Moran fielding Pat Camon’s long delivery and applying a typical Moran finish in the 16th minute.
Simon Lyons had to be alert at the other end a minute later when he intuitively intercepted a Loughrea pass in the square when the goal seemed inevitable.
A minute later Banagher were level thanks to a Joey O’Connor point, the midfield dynamo released to his best position having strangely started at corner-forward.
There was further drama before the break; Brian Molloy hauled down when heading for goal. Molloy picked himself up and went for goal from the resultant 20m free which Pat Camon and Conor Clancy blocked between them.
The referee spotted a Banagher infringement however and ordered the free be retaken. Molloy went for the same spot. Again Camon and Clancy blocked it between them and the ball went harmlessly wide after a scramble.
Hurling into the ‘scoring end’ in the second half, Banagher went on the attack immediately after the break and Trevor Moran pointed three times early in the half, the first when placed by Seán Gardiner, the others pointed frees awarded after fouls on himself.
Loughrea pulled back one point through a Molloy pointed free before the Connacht Champions went in front again after 40 minutes when Molloy got on the end of Seán Sweeney’s delivery and cleverly flicked the ball to the net over the advancing Clancy for a 2-8 to 1-10 lead.
The Banagher defence continued to work tirelessly and Seán Gardiner was winning tremendous aerial possession. As they chased the game they tended to push too far up in attack and as all their play went down the middle towards Trevor Moran’s sector they struggled to make the real space required.
Banagher were hit hard too, with Pat Camon, Simon Lyons and Trevor Moran coming in for ‘special treatment’ in a physical match. Three pointed Moran frees following fouls on Niall Wynne and two on himself. The second of those a rash pull which earned Seán Sweeney a yellow card and Banagher were 1-13 to 2-8 ahead with just over eight minutes left.
Banagher were not to score again in normal time as they visibly tired. Brian Molloy, Eanna Burke, Jamie Ryan and Tomás Spellman found more space in the Loughrea attack, and Sweeney and Darragh Burke gained the possession outfield.
Molloy’s pointed free left the minimum between them and Darragh Dolan’s point levelled it with two minutes to go. Joey O’Connor might have pointed on the run for Banagher but he chose to pass instead and the chance was lost. Darragh Burke and Pat Camon had late chances to win it with long-range frees. Neither hit the target and it was Banagher 1-13 Loughrea 2-10 after sixty enthralling minutes.
Loughrea made all the running during the first half of extra time. A hefty frontal challenge on Simon Lyons somehow brought no free and with the Banagher defence under constant pressure Loughrea went five points ahead, Jamie Ryan’s goal striking a major blow.
It was mind over matter now as Banagher chased the game and with Moran at centre-forward for extra-time they pressed hard right to the end. Two pointed Moran frees reduced the arrears, Gardner and Camon (free) reduced the deficit to the minimum but Banagher were out of time and Loughrea advance to the Final.
St Brigid’s, Loughrea: Brian Molloy (2-7, 0-5 frees), Darragh Dolan (0-3), Jamie Ryan (1-0), Seán Sweeney (0-1), Darragh Burke (0-1), Eanna Burke (0-1).
Banagher College: Trevor Moran (1-10, 0-7 frees, 0-1 ‘65’), Rory Wynne (0-2), Joey O’Connor (0-2), Daryl Duane (0-1), Darren Hopkins (0-1), Seán Gardiner (0-1), Pat Camon (0-1, free).
St Brigid’s, Loughrea: 13 (5 2nd half, 6 extra time); Banagher College 15 (4 2nd half, 0 extra time).
Red: None. Yellow (4): Gary Moylan (26 mins), Pat Camon & Micheál Hannon (both 39 mins), Seán Sweeney (50 mins).
ST BRIGID’S LOUGHREA: Gerald Kelly; Shane Flynn, Cathal Kennedy, Darragh O’Donoghue; Pádraic Kennedy, Micheál Hannon, Gary Moylan; Tomás Spellman, Seán Sweeney; Thomas Mitchell, Darragh Dolan, Darragh Burke (capt.); Eanna Burke, Brian Molloy, Stephen Cahalan.Subs: Jamie Ryan for T Mitchell (33 mins), Brian Dolan for S Cahalan.
BANAGHER COLLEGE: Conor Clancy; Niall Wynne, Simon Lyons, Colm Daly; Seán Dolan, Pat Camon (capt.), Seán Gardiner; Daniel Smith, Alan Camon; Darren Hopkins, Rory Wynne, Jamie Lewis; Daryl Duane, Trevor Moran, Joey O’Connor. Subs: Shane Newcombe for D Smith (half time), Joseph Madden for D Duane (46 mins), David Flynn for A Camon (56 mins), Matthew Maloney for C Daly (66 mins).
REFEREE: Johnny Ryan, Tipperary.