Determined Ballymun get the job done again
Ballymun Kickhams' Jason Whelan celebrates with goalscorer Ted Furman at Semple Stadium. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Ballymun K’hams 1-10 Dr Crokes 0-9:Ballymun Kickhams made it a clean sweep for the underdogs in this year’s AIB All-Ireland club semi-finals but such was their control and remorselessness that a casual observer could never have guessed the starting odds.
On Saturday in Semple Stadium, Thurles, before a minuscule crowd of 2,278, the Leinster champions became the first club from Dublin to beat their Kerry counterparts in four encounters since the championship began over 40 years ago. Crokes manager Noel O’Leary took it on the chin.
“We’ve come up against defensive set-ups before. We knew what they were going to throw at us from the off. In fairness, they stuck to their guns. That’s the way they’ve played in the Dublin and Leinster championship. We couldn’t get the better of them today. Fair play to them, that’s a testament to them and their management. It’s just not Dr Crokes’ day.”
In some ways it was a strange match. On the one hand few would have imagined beforehand that one of the sides could get away with the spendthrift finishing exhibited by the winners in the first half; on the other, it wouldn’t have appeared possible that a team as overrun as Crokes were in the first 40 minutes could have been within two points with under 10 minutes left – and that with the handicap of having missed a penalty.
Ballymun manager Paul Curran identified that moment in the 38th minute and goalkeeper Seán Currie’s save as a watershed: “It was a very important save from Seán – maybe a game-changer in many ways. I think if they’d scored they might have kicked on. But it kept that bit of breathing space for us.”
Philip McMahon who had brought down Dáithí Casey – unmarked on the end line in a rare security breach of the winners’ defence – was already on a yellow card but earned no further rebuke from referee Marty Duffy. Currie saved Chris Brady’s kick and captain David Byrne was quick to react and clear the ball. It stretched to six the team’s sequence of matches without conceding a goal.
The configuration of the team was a major success for Curran and his selectors.
All-Ireland under-21 medallist Seán George played full back on Colm Cooper and had the better of the contest with his fingertip interception of Kieran O’Leary’s menacing ball into the Croke’s danger man preventing an almost certain goal in the 21st minute.
McMahon played out around centrefield and gave a terrific performance of foot-passing and scored a fine point as well as helping the team defend. Curran explained the thinking: “Him going in at full-back meant we needed to have a look at another place for Philly. And we know he can play out the field – he wants to play out the field.”
James McCarthy beside him was also hugely influential, his fielding and powerful running complementing and varying the early ball into the forwards.
Alan Hubbard won the TG4 Man of the Match, recognition in particular of a barnstorming second half when the team were under pressure.
Whereas Ballymun always looked to have time to pick kicked passes into their forwards, Crokes found their kickers under pressure and their inside men equally so. For instance for a full 60 seconds between the 25th and 26th minute the Kerry champions moved the ball about for 15 passes but to little effect. The passage ended with Cooper being penalised for over-holding.
Daithí Casey’s snap long-range point in the 27th minute illuminated a possible way forward for the Killarney team but they got few opportunities free of defensive pressure.
Key to the first half was Ted Furman’s 15th-minute goal, its origins in one of McMahon’s guided missiles. Furman twisted one way and then another before steering the ball firmly past David Moloney, which established a lead, 1-2 to 0-2, that was never caught. The corner forward’s 1-1 was the eventual difference between the teams.
Dean Rock, like Furman, had a mixed day from play but he kicked important frees and added a couple of fine points from play. The half-time lead of 1-4 to 0-4 was poor value for Ballymun’s dominance – a superb save by Moloney from Kevin Leahy prevented a certain goal – but they had doubled the lead early in the second half. Only a a nimble block by John Payne prevented McMahon adding to his accomplishments.
With Cooper now operating in a deeper role and Eoin Brosnan having pushed forward to centrefield, Crokes dug in and made a fight of it having squandered the penalty. Four unanswered points – Cooper involved in all – cut the deficit to two, 1-7 to 0-8. Ballymun steadied however and drove on.
Next stop, Croke Park.