This match had all the ingredients of a “do or die” contest as all 4 teams in this Dublin Minor Football A Championship “group of death” had won 1 and lost 1 so far. Whoever won today would progress to the last 8 in the top flight of Dublin Minor Football 2013.
That these sides were meeting for the first time in competition is an extraordinary statistic for teams that have played competitive Football in Dublin over the last 8 years. With no history to inform expectations it would not have been unreasonable to look to the League performance and Championship to date to form a forward view of the likely outcome. Nh Mearnóg’s pedigree was clear. Finishing joint second with Ballyboden behind Na Fianna in Division 1 in 2013 and having crushed Castlenock, who had already beaten Ballinteer with apparent ease, the form book favoured the visitors.
The day dawned cloudy and humid. A blustery wind from the south took full responsibility for the unseasonal warmth which caused the early risk of rain to recede and meant the gloves could stay in the bags. With both Minor teams playing at the same time we could look forward to a decent turnout of home supporters. The ever-faithful Maurice and Mick led the pack in this regard and took their positions well before throw-in which came at 11.06 precisely.
The match started at pace. Ballinteer enjoyed early possession of the ball and moved it well only for loose and nervy delivery into the forward line to cause easy turnover without a shot having been fired. The same was also true at the other end however and the game settled into its rhythm following an early exchange of points which allowed both teams to settle. Mearnóg sensed blood when Craig had to step inside to collect a short kick-out and BSJ conceded a soft point from the resulting throw-in. Another short kick-out to Daire, who was tightly marked, led to another easy point for the visitors and they took the lead for the first time in the match.
If things were not looking ominous enough they soon looked a whole lot worse as the referee’s attention was drawn to an exchange taking place off the ball. He didn’t like what he saw and a red card was his response to Enda at corner back for Ballinteer. Unknown to us however the ref had brought his own independent umpires and following a short conversation with same the Mearnóg number 15 was shown the line arising from the same incident.
Mick showed his mettle to win the restart in front of goal and hold off the heavy challenges until the relief of a free lifted the siege.
Ballinteer stuck with the plan and were soon rewarded when Sam linked with Cillian who needed no second invitation to shoot for goal and he made no mistake. The half time whistle brought the curtain down on a first half filled with drama and allowed the realisation that Johns were leading this championship tie to sink in.
The seed of self-belief was evident from the restart and blossomed as Ballinteer grew in confidence from every successful pass executed. There was a sense that Mearnóg needed to get back on terms quickly or Ballinteer might press on and put the match beyond them. In a well-rehearsed ploy another moment of drama unfolded as the Mearnóg goalkeeper entered general play and carried the ball unhindered deep into the Ballinteer half before delivering a well-timed pass to his wing back who had travelled in support. The number 5 unleashed a piledriver from 10 meters which Keith did well to turn over the bar and limit the damage to a point. Ballinteer’s response was immediate and clinical. Kevin won the kickout in lár páirce and carried it on before executing the perfect pass. Receiving the ball perfectly into his path Sam collected and made no mistake, beating the keeper, who was less than a minute returned from his trip upfield, with a strike to the bottom left corner of the Mearnóg net. Ballinteer started to dominate in all departments and Daire, whose fielding was immense all day, won the ball and ran 50 meters to draw the defence before passing to Iarlaith who had moved to the perfect position for his comfortable strike to add another point.
The best was yet to come for the Ballinteer supporters whose ranks were now swollen by the B teams of Johns and Nh Op/ER whose match had just finished in favour of the visitors. Kevin won another untidy ball in midfield and gave a short pass under pressure to Luke who was defensively positioned in support. Surrounded by 4 opposition players who were closing on him fast, Luke accelerated between them with a pace they simply did not anticipate and carried the ball forward at speed. With the defence shredded, Luke released Briain who timed his left footed shot to perfection, avoiding the despairing rush of the corner back and the goalkeeper’s dive, to place the ball low into the bottom right of the Mearnóg goal. The hapless keeper’s discomfiture continued as he took a quick kick-out, to which none of his backs was alert, only to see our Mícheál gather and return over the bar.
There was to be no way back for a brave Mearnóg side who never stopped playing and had the satisfaction of the last few points but they needed goals at this stage and they never looked like scoring one.
Having topped the Group ahead of St Maurs, on the head to head result between the teams, Ballinteer looks forward now to a home quarter final against St Vincents in a couple of week’s time … and Eddie has to give up the cigarettes !
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