Ballymartle 1-10 Pearses 0-10. Report by Stephen Glennon, Connacht Tribune. Padraig Pearses gave it their all in this intriguing All-Ireland intermediate semi-final in idyllic Templetuohy on Sunday. Too often, the term ‘a brave effort’ can be bandied about, but in Pearses’ case it was justly deserved. Up against more stylish opposition, John Jenkins’ charges – reduced to 14 men after just 12 minutes – raged against all the odds, and looked like they might snatch a win, or at least force extra-time, in this absorbing clash against Munster champions Ballymartle. In a clash of this stature, there was bound to be talking points and in this penultimate game of the competition, there were many.
The first couple came within 60 or seconds of each other, namely the pivotal Ballymartle goal on 11 minutes and the dismissal of Pearses wing-back Tommy McDonagh moments later. Although starting brightly enough, with Tomas Flannery shooting the contest’s opening point from a free, the Galway men were dealt a huge blow when Ballymartle corner forward Jamie Dwyer, following a neat pass from brother Barry, found the net on 11 minutes. That score put the Cork title holders into a comfortable 1-4 to 0-1 lead. Calm heads were now needed. However, a rush of blood to McDonagh’s crown moments later – when he pulled low on Ballymartle wing forward Darren McCarthy under the high ball – he received his marching orders. When Rory Dwyer converted the ensuing free to nudge the victors further in front, it seemed the Gurteen/Ballymacward outfit were going to be in for a torrid afternoon. However, in the second quarter, Pearses began to steady themselves. Free taker Flannery – who hit all of Pearses’ points on the day – traded scores with Ballymartle’s Seamus Corry and Darren McCarthy before the Pearses corner forward struck two points late in the half to leave them trailing 0-5 to 1-7 at the break.
Ballymartle began the second half in similar fashion when, just 14 seconds in, Rory Dwyer scored a cracker from play. Barry Dwyer (free) and McCarthy added further efforts in the third quarter to extend their team’s lead to 1-10 to 0-5 and it looked as if they would, at any moment, open the floodgates. Yet, it never happened. With every passing moment, Pearses stomach’ for the battle just got stronger and stronger and their insatiable spirit began to grind Ballymartle down. Indeed, if Lady Luck had smiled on Pearses, they might have got the breakthrough their gritty display deserved. First, Galway centre-forward Cyril Donnellan had two 20-metre efforts denied on the goal-line, before Flannery went low from a similar position, only to have his pile-driver deflected out for a ’65. Pearses, though, were not giving up the chase. Flannery converted the subsequent placed ball, before adding three more frees in the ensuing eight minutes to narrow the gap to a single goal.
Meanwhile, at the back, Pearses were defending heroically, with the full-back line of Anthony Kenny, Tomas Kenny and Padraig Raftery, along with the half-back unit of Kerrill Hardiman, Thomas Higgins and the versatile Aidan Kilkenny – deployed from wing-forward to fill the vacated berth – absolutely magnificent. For the last 17 minutes of the contest, Ballymartle never raised another flag, while Pearses continued to pepper their opponents’ goalmouth, quite often with high balls. In truth, 14-man Pearses, for their guts and determination alone, deserved to get something from the tie, but try as they might, they just couldn’t breach the Ballymartle goal and the Corkmen held out for the win. While there were plenty of talking points from this one – there was a sneaking suspicion that the ball may have crossed the line from one of Donnellan’s 20-metre frees – the main differences between the two were the sending off and Ballymartle’s ability to take their scores from open play.
That Pearses managed to leave just a score in it at the end, having played over 50 minutes, including injury-time, with just 14 men was a phenomenal achievement, although that will be of little consolation to them this week. Still, if they carry that mindset and attitude into the senior championship in late Spring, then they will cause problems for the hierarchy of the county. Of course, the loss of sharpshooter Jimmy Gelston with a metatarsal injury – although the corner forward did remove the cast himself the day before so he could make an appearance – was also a major blow to Pearses’ efforts. They were over-relying on Flannery to produce the scores, particularly as centre-forward Cyril Donnellan had to be moved to midfield, where he worked his socks off, to halt Ballymartle’s early momentum.
A knock-on effect of this move – and the sending off – was that the imposing Emmet Ward – a player who impressed during the county championship – had then to be withdrawn from his full-forward berth to lead the half-forward line, leaving a massive hole inside. It just made life so difficult for Pearses offensive players. Undoubtedly, Pearses will benefit from the experience when they rejoin the senior ranks in the coming months, while, if the Galway intermediate county management were looking in, they would have seen a number of defensive performances that could well backbone their title hopes in the Summer. Quite simply, all of the backs were man of the match contenders, particularly corner back Padraig Raftery and the versatile Aidan Kilkenny, while Cyril Donnellan left everything he had out on the field. Credit, also, to the likes of Flannery and Ward for operating under such trying circumstances up front.
PEARSES: F. Flannery; A. Kenny, T Kenny, P. Raftery; K. Hardiman, T. Higgins, T. McDonagh; S. Hardiman, K. Donnellan; C. Ward, C. Donnellan, A. Kilkenny; T. Flannery (0-10, 9f), E. Ward, A. Bellew. Subs: R. Lally for K. Donnellan (30 mins), S. Raftery for Bellew (42 mins), J. Gelston for T. Higgins (52 mins).
BALLYMARTLE: D. McCarthy; D. Coleman, M. Tobin, D. Dwyer; J. Kelly, P. Dwyer, N. Sheehan; S. Corry (0-1), G. Webb; D. McCarthy (0-3), R. Dwyer (0-2, 1f), B. Dwyer (0-4, 3f); J. Dwyer (1-0), D. Dwyer, P. Coughlan. Subs: D. Edmonds for Coleman (47 mins), S. O’Mahony for Coughlan (59 mins).
Referee: P. Casey (Waterford).