Out and out belter
Coolkenno and Ballymanus serve up a super opener
AS much as it might sound like a cliché, there is nothing like the white heat of championship. Nothing! Throw in a beautiful evening, a carpet-like surface, a vocal and passionate crowd and that light feeling that can only be found on a summer’s evening and you have all the ingredients for a cracker. And Coolkenno and Ballymanus delivered just that and more last Saturday evening in Baltinglass when the Darcy Sands Intermediate Football Championship kicked off in style with this Group 1 belter.
Right from the first attack you knew this was one of those days when all attention was going to be fully focused on the battle. The decent crowd, players and officials were locked together in these 60-odd minutes of pure GAA warfare and until that shrill blast at the death there was no escape for any of us. We were all invested, lost to the cause.
The Intermediate football championship is always one to be relied on for entertainment and for tough battles. Some will say it’s the hardest to win, and this year’s adventure is going to be a hellish struggle for whatever squad emerges victorious at the end.
With clashes to follow against Annacurra, Laragh, Kilmacanogue and Ballinacor, both Coolkenno and Ballymanus knew that a win on day one would be a huge boost for their cause, and both duly set about seeking just that when Ciaran Fleming lobbed the ball in the air for the start of this eagerly anticipated joust. Gone were the long winter nights, gone was the idle chatter, gone was the hoping and wondering. The moment had arrived. We were off.
Like any cracker, this one produced oodles of talking points, and turning points, and side shows. There were passionate exchanges in the stand, heated debates, sore words on the sideline, big scores, big misses, a sending off and calls for more. Before the game had even started a GAA official complained that a team official was not wearing a bib and he received a swift and debilitating reply that left him with no option but to seek refuge in the shade. It’s far from bibs we were reared!
The game starts off at a frantic pace. A Paddy Dalton ball in is won by Conor Walker out in front of his man, turns and bang, put it up!
Mark Kenny sends a heat-seeker to Padraig Byrne in at full-forward, bang, put it up again!
We are looking at two classic full-forwards. Coolkenno’s Don Jackman, a championship general, battle hardened, leg strapped, those seeking eyes scouring the landscape before him like those of a dominant lion on the Serengeti. He’s looking for ball and these hyena defenders better watch out for his bite.
At the other end, Padraig Byrne, a young challenger, teak tough, fast, intelligent.
Ballymanus are trying a very interesting tactic. Billy Byrne’s men are missing a few through injury. They’ve pulled Paddy Byrne (Moyne) back as a deep sweeper in front of his full-back line who are charged with minding Jackman, Conor Walker and Pauric Coleman. Your first instinct is to lament the loss of Paddy Byrne’s attacking prowess at the other end but when all is said and done you appreciate the move because you’re watching a footballing brain attempting to make an impact on a big game out the field.
Coolkenno will leave Donal Doyle as their free man at the back.
Don Jackman swings over a free after being fouled by Darragh Byrne and Paddy Dalton will go wide before we behold the game’s biggest talking and turning point in the sixth minute.
There’s a tangle in front of the stand between Paddy Byrne (Gap) and Pauric Coleman. Linesman Judy Keogh (on the stand sideline) or referee Ciaran Fleming haven’t witnessed it. The crowd are baying for blood. Fleming goes to speak to linesman Garreth Whelan on the far side. The referee returns, calls for Byrne and shows him a red card. This is a massive moment in the game.
Seamus Coogan is drafted back to look after Coleman in Byrne’s absence but Ballymanus are now really up against it.
In a matter of minutes, they fall 0-4 to 0-1 behind after points from Jackman (free) and the lively Eamonn Rossiter. But they rally. Roan Lynch starts the recovery before we get another big talking point in the 14th minute when Padraig Byrne looks to be pulled back in the square after a long Mark Kenny ball but the Baltinglass official waves the calls away and on we go.
Darragh Byrne wins a battle with Jackman at the other end and Jackman gets himself a yellow card. Padraig Byrne points at the other end. This is thirsty work, even in the stand.
Mark Kenny is looking really threatening out the field. He launches another bomb to Padraig Byrne who exchanges with Kevin Byrne and rifles over to level the match at 0-4 apiece after 16 minutes.
Back come Coolkenno, teak tough Coolkenno. Conor Walker returns them to the lead. Eamonn Rossiter wins the break from Brendan Doyle’s kick-out, the ball is worked to Eoghan Dolan who lobs in a ball on top of Don Jackman who punches for the net but is repelled by a fine save off the line by Doyle.
Coolkenno’s tails are up. Bob Keogh and Pauric Coleman push them out to 0-7 to 0-4 ahead but another long ball to Padraig Byrne sees him torment the Coolkenno defence and win a penalty for a foul by full-back James Gregan. Byrne has the beating of this fullback line every single time the ball goes anywhere near him.
The Ballymanus full-forward steps up to take it but pulls it inches wide of the left upright. Another huge moment in this game.
It looks as though that missed penalty might be the undoing of the Ballymanus challenge, that their confidence might not recover, and they slip out to 0-11 to 0-4 behind after points from Eoghan Dolan, Jackamn (free), Pauric Coleman and Conor Walker after a period of utter domination for Stephen Cushe’s side.
But wait. Remember Padraig Byrne, and the way he might frighten the life out of a full-back line? Paddy Byrne, to Roan Lynch, to Padraig Byrne, ripper of a goal and we have a match on our hands with 31 gone in the first half.
Back come Ballymanus but a wide from Lynch brings the first half to a close. Coolkenno will shoot towards the scoreboard end for the second half.
Within three minutes of the start of the second half, Ballymanus are within a point of Coolkenno. And they’ve made a significant alteration to their attack by bringing Padraig Byrne out and leaving Colm Coogan and Kevin Byrne inside with a half-forward line of Roan Lynch at centre forward and Padraig Byrne and Kieran Whelan alongside. Paddy Byrne (Moyne) is now at centre back.
Roan Lynch, and two absolute stunners off Mark Kenny’s right and left foot leave them trailing by one at 0-11 to 1-7.
Coolkenno attack after turning over Ballymanus ball. Keith Farrell finds Eoghan Dolan, long to Jackman, gathers, steps back around Darragh Byrne and places it sublimely beyond Brendan Doyle in the Ballymanus goal to absolutely sicken the Billies’ challenge.
Now things start to get tense. Eamonn Rossiter points after Padraig Byrne was penalised for picking the ball up but it didn’t look as though the ball was on the ground from the vantage point in the stand. Small margins.
Paddy Byrne swings over a free just before Craig Farrar comes in for Kieran Whelan. Seamus Coogan fouls Eamonn Rossiter and Conor Walker dispatches the free between the sticks, 1-13 plays 1-8.
A foul by James Gregan on Kevin Byrne gives Paddy Byrne another chance and he obliges while Coolkenno prove wasteful with a wide either side as Paul Kehoe comes in for the injured Donal Doyle who put in a serious shift for his team.
Paddy Byrne gets it back to a three-point game with 18 gone but Pauric Coleman extends Coolkenno’s lead after super work from Eamonn Rossiter. Back come Ballymanus with a wicked score from Roan Lynch off his right boot with 21 gone.
Ballymanus attack. Cathal Rossiter looks to slide in on Roan Lynch in what appears to be a very dangerous tackle and he picks up a yellow card while the crowd scream for a different shade. Brian Rossiter enters the fray in place of his brother who is wisely removed with seven to go.
Padraig Byrne from a 45 is replied to by a beautiful score from Pauric Coleman, but back come Ballymanus with a point from Paddy Byrne (free) after a jersey pull on Roan Lynch.
Time is short now and Ballymanus are desperately seeking anything and could have had a goal but for the heroics of Damien Geraghty from the boot of Kevin Byrne.
Mark Kenny reduces the deficit to one after watching a 45 dropped in on the Coolkenno goal be plucked from the sky by the shovel-like hands of Don Jackman.
Eoghan Dolan pushed Coolkenno two ahead in the 66th minute of this battle and the Billies needed a goal but all they got was a point from Padraig Byrne and that was that.
A draw would have been a very satisfying result for everyone, but it was Coolkenno who get their championship campaign off to a wonderful start.
The sending off was monumental for the Billies. They have a few weeks to recover and regroup. Plenty of turns on this road to come.
This was an epic battle. Scorers – Coolkenno: Don Jackman 1-3 (2f), Pauric Coleman 0-5, Conor Walker 0-3, Eoghan Dolan 0-2, Eamonn Rossiter 0-2, Robert Keogh 0-1.
Ballymanus: Padraig Byrne 1-5 (1 45), Paddy Byrne (Moyne) 0-4 (4f), Roan Lynch 0-3, Mark Kenny 0-3.
COOLKENNO: Damien Geraghty; Donal Doyle, James Gregan, Philip Timmons; Keith Farrell, Cathal Rossiter, Paddy Dalton; Jim Cushe, Conor Doyle; Robert Keogh, Eoghan Dolan, Eamonn Rossiter; Pauric Coleman, Don Jackman, Conor Walker. Subs: Paul Keogh for D Doyle (43, inj), Brian Rossiter for C Rossiter (53), Colin Murphy for J Cushe (61, inj).
BALLYMANUS: Brendan Doyle; Aidan Byrne, Darragh Byrne, Paddy Byrne; Shane Whelan, Kieran Whelan, Seamus Coogan; Darragh O’Keeffe, Brendan Whelan; Colm Coogan, Mark Kenny, Kevin Byrne; Roan Lynch, Padraig Byrne, Paddy Byrne (Moyne). Subs: Craig Farrar for K Whelan (39), Paul Murray for C Coogan (57).
REFEREE: Ciaran Fleming (Baltinglass)
Close call! Coolkenno goalkeeper Damien Gerathy comes under pressure from Padraig Byrneof Ballymanus.
Coolkenno’s Conor Walker looks to escape from Aidan Byrne.