Ballina Stephenites are, at last, back as county champions. They’ve more county titles than anyone else but before today their most recent Moclair Cup win was back in 2007. Having lost last year’s final to first-time winners Westport they went one better under the lights at Hastings Insurance MacHale Park today, edging out Breaffy in an extremely low-scoring decider that ended 0-6 to 0-4.
The paucity of scores was partly due to how both teams set up but also to some fairly wayward shooting. A Breaffy supporter I was chatting to just now said his team had shot thirteen wides and, in a match of such tight margins, such profligacy in front of the posts was always going to prove fatal. So it proved.
Breaffy got the game’s opening score, from a free, but that was their only point of the first half. Ballina managed four points before the break, with only Conor McStay’s point the only one from play, as Evan Regan converted two frees and Luke Feeney got the other from a mark.
Breaffy got off to a positive start after the break. Conor O’Shea, as he’d done in the first half, opened the second half scoring with a free and then James Minogue fisted over to cut the gap to one. That proved to be their only score from play in this county final.
But Conor O’Shea then missed a fairly straightforward free from a central position and further misses followed too, with Ballina extending their lead when Frank Irwin drove over a ’45. That one was cancelled out by an Aidan O’Shea free at the other end.
That score came in the 43rd minute but, incredibly, it was deep into injury time when the next, and final, score of the game arrived. That one was scored by Ballina’s Luke Feeney and the huge roar from the Stephenites’ supporters that greeted it showed they knew their team had done it.
Before then, Breaffy had huffed and puffed but missed several chances to at least draw level. By now, Aidan O’Shea had been pulled back out to midfield and, as was noted on our preview podcast, that sight was surely one to gladden the hearts of the Stephenites. Without Aidan inside, Breaffy had very little scoring threat up front.
While Breaffy were labouring badly in their efforts to overhaul their opponents, Ballina’s attacking efforts fared no better. I’m not sure what their wide count was but it must have been close to double figures too.
In the final analysis, though, Ballina did enough to win what was the lowest scoring Senior county final since the one they beat Castlebar Mitchels in, by the same score, way back in 1935. (Thanks to Wikipedia for that eye-opening stat.)
So the Moclair Cup is, for the first time in sixteen years, heading back to the banks of the Moy. Ballina are worthy winners of the Senior football Championship but today isn’t the first day in this campaign when the quality of football on show has been poor.
The winners won’t be caring about quality tonight, though – they came with one aim in mind, which was to end their long wait for a county title. That wait is now over.
For Breaffy, however, the wait goes on. You’d need a heart of stone not to feel for them tonight, as the realisation sinks in that they’ve let slip another opportunity to win the Moclair Cup for the first time and that they must instead contemplate the stark fact that they’ve lost their fifth Senior county final since 2013. It’s a tough station for them, for sure.
Congrats to Ballina on their title win and commiserations, once again, to Breaffy.
Our Final Whistle pod from MacHale Park on the Senior final features post-match reaction from the winners’ camp from Niall Heffernan, Dylan Thornton, Ciaran Treacy and David Clarke. There’s also match analysis from former Knockmore manager Eamonn Clarke and from John Maughan. This pod is now up on Patreon.