Ballyfin Gaels 4-17
By Denis J. Croke
BALLYFIN Gaels pulled off what must be one of the greatest ever comebacks in the history of the Laois senior football championship in O’Moore Park on Saturday evening.
Trailing by nine points at the break, and ten points minutes after the restart, they looked doomed for the relegation scrap. But two goals in less than a minute sparked a revival, the likes of which had the attendance stunned, regardless of whether you supported the men in green or Emo or were a neutral.
Playing a swift, expansive game, they tore Emo to shreds. The losers just could not cope with the pace at which Ballyfin were now playing.
It is hard to believe that from being county finalists last year, coming within minutes of dethroning Portlaoise in their fist meeting, that Emo are now locked in a battle for their senior survival.
But they themselves must shoulder some of the responsibility for this loss. Glen Brophy had a torrid time trying to cope with Ballyfin sharp shooter Sean Moore but the selectors decided to leave him marking him for the hour. Moore went on to score 1-11, 1-6 from play.
The other notable decision made by the Emo selectors was what role to use Darren Strong in. Strong started in midfield but quickly settle into centre-back. For the first half the county player was immense, the link between Emo’s back and forwards. He was to score a goal and two points during this period.
However, on the restart he was handed a sweeper role, despite the fact that at that time Ballyfin were posing little threat going forward. The fact that he was absent from the middle of the park resulted in Ballyfin taking control of this sector and mounting their attacks.
Ear;ly on it looked like it was going to be the Nigel Murphy show as he scored a goal and two points in the opening eight minutes. Ballyfin responded with points from Moore (2) and James Finn, which were cancelled out by Mick and Paul Lawlor and Strong.
A brace from Moore kept Ballyfin in the hunt but it looked like they out of it when Emo scored two goals and a point in the half’s dying minutes. Strong scored his second point and when the resultant kick out fell to Paul Lawlor, he placed Strong to hammer to the net. Seconds later Strong and Lawlor combined to set up Chris Gleeson for a cracking goal.
It really looked curtains for Ballyfin when Louis Duff blasted over with just the keeper to beat leaving Emo leading 3-6 to 0-6 at the break.
On the restart Ricky Quillinan had an effort blocked by Paul Kirwan while at the other end Paul Lawlor tapped over a point.
Suddenly it all changed. Eoin Dunphy went on a storming run, fed Moore and he rattled the net.
From the kick out the ball was returned to the Emo goalmouth and as the defence struggled to clear it Darragh Connolly pounced to send it to the net. The gap was suddenly reduced to four pints but still Ballyfin had a lot to do.
But Emo looked stunned, they were unable to react which is amazing for a team with their experience. Moore and Duff closed the gap to two, after 37 minutes, before Paul Lawlor missed a simple free.
Once again the Emo defence was torn to shreds as Ben Conroy and Duff races forward, where Finn took up the mantle and sent a rasper to the net. Ballyfin were in front and were never to look back.
Emo introduced Evan Costello and he was to make a difference to their attack. He scored a point as did Paul Lawlor and the gap was the minimum with 49 minutes played. Was this the start of a recovery?
Ballyfin were having none of it and instantly replied with points from Finn, Moore and Eoin Dunphy.
The gap was back to two in the 54th minute after Costello landed a brace.
But the outcome was put beyond doubt a minute later when Connolly struck for his second goal. Moore was to land another three while Duff scored their last point.
It was no surprise that Paul Lawlor’s 62nd minute free didn’t even raise a whisper.
BALLYFIN GAELS: Paul Holohan; Barry Roche, Ritchie Downey, David Connolly; Alan Strong, George Lanham, Max Connolly; James Finn (1-2, 0-1f), Eoin Dunphy (0-1); Darragh Connolly (2-0), Rickie Quillinan, Dan Molloy; Ben Conroy, Louis Duff (0-3), Sean Moore (1-11, 0-5f).
Subs: Ciaran Fingleton for Roche (57m)
EMO: Paul Kirwan; Shane Murphy, Glen Brophy, Paddy Dunne; Ray Ryan, Mark Carney, David Whelan; Bobby Deveraux, Darren Strong (1-2), Finbar Crowley, Nigel Murphy (1-2), Chris Gleeson (1-0); Mick Lawlor (0-1), Paul Lawlor (0-4, 0-3f), David Gorman.
Subs: Evan Costello (0-3, 0-1f)for M Lawlor (45m), Dylan Langford for Gorman (45m), Conor Lawlor for S Murphy (47m)
Referee: Joe Brennan (Crettyard)