Composed Ballinderry take all right options and Ulster football title
Glenswilly unable to capitalise on scoring goals at start of each half
Ballinderry’s Ryan Bell clashes with Glenswilly’s Gary McFadden during the Ulster senior club football championship final at Healy Park, Co Tyrone. Photograph: Inpho
Who says you can’t play sparkling football in the dead of December? After a 12-year gap, Ballinderry resumed their status as the best team in Ulster by kicking marvellous points under floodlights in Omagh.
Glenswilly, the Donegal champions, were devastated at the final whistle but they met side who refused to blink after Michael Murphy struck with a goal in the first minute of play and rarely taking a wrong option all day. “Look, over the last years we have run up against the opposition of Crossmaglen,” said manager Martin McKinless after the whistle. “But look, we probably didn’t have the rub of the green on those days, there were days we drew level with them and we just couldn’t get over the line. It’s sorta cloud nine at the minute but hopefully we’ll have long enough to appreciate this over the next couple of days.”
It was hard to fault this performance from the Derry champions. From the quicksilver attacking play of Colin Devlin to the ever-cool know-how of Conleith Gilligan, they had the wherewithal up front and benefited from a gargantuan midfield show by James Conway.
They were caught for goals at the beginning of both halves but responded with formidable composure. Glenswilly’s first came from a predictable source, when Michael Murphy claimed a nothing ball along the endline and then gathered speed before cutting through Conor Nevin and Gareth McKinless before looping a left foot shot into the net.
Just after-half time, Glenswilly bit again, with Caolan McFadden finding Murphy who, as Ballinderry men collapsed on him, noticed Caolan Kelly ghosting into the goal mouth: the corner back, who roamed up and down the wing all day, batted home Murphy’s hand pass. Both those goals kept the Donegal men right in the game but couldn’t disguise Ballinderry’s superior firepower.
“We got eight scores and that’s probably not enough to win an Ulster final,” acknowledged Glenswilly manager Gary McDaid. “Maybe a lot of that was due to Ballinderry’s abilities as defenders. Gareth McKinless is as good as a defender as I have seen all year. Ballinderry are the best team we have ever played against.”
This weekend a year ago, Glenswilly were relegated to Division Two. Their resurgence has been remarkable but in order to win here, they needed to convert everything. Four first-half wides– and a shot off the post from Caolan Kelly – were scores that got away.
They had a half chance of a third goal when Colin Kelly briefly got his fingertips to a long ball from Neil Gallagher but it was snuffed out. Ballinderry tasked Gareth McKinless with shadowing Murphy and although he conceded height and physique, he was admirably sticky and disciplined, with Conor Nevin dropping back to double team the Donegal talisman. Glenswilly needed more attacking options and they didn’t materialise.
Ballinderry seemed to have score takers all over the field. In the first half, they deconstructed Glenswilly’s pressing defence by shooting three quality distance points, the pick of those by Dermot McGuckin. Then they attacked long and Michael McIver, venturing up from corner back, was at hand to fist home Ryan Bell’s half blocked shot. Bell played deep for most of the game, using his strength and ball playing skill to bust holes in the Glenswilly cover and they were in control at half-time, 1-6 to 1-2.
McKinless said: “Our play in the first half, we weren’t picking our men up and we weren’t moving the ball quickly enough and carrying it into the tackle. We were playing into their hands. But we got the sucker punch at the beginning of the second half. Four points down, they drew level with us and went in front of us. We dug in and showed a lot of character to finish the game off.”
After Glenswilly’s revival through Caolan Kelly’s goal and a classy point on the run from Murphy, the game flowered into a winter classic. A scoreless period lasting seven minutes was probably the highlight, with Neil Gallagher brilliantly blocking Gareth McKinless to end a sweeping Ballinderry move and Daniel McGinley and Conleth Gilligan trading excellent points.
All predictions seemed meaningless as both clubs warmed to the idea of winning the title. Then Daniel McKinless hit a beautiful point and Darren Conway, just in from the bench, landed another and suddenly Conor Nevin, the nominal fullback, was through in goal, forcing a fine block from Glenswilly goalkeeper Philip O’Donnell.
By the last 10 minutes, Glenswilly required the superhuman from Murphy and although he obliged with a late irresistible point, the day belonged to the Derry men. It fell to Conleith Gilligan, a bundle of mischief back when they won the All-Ireland, to end the scoring with a free. This latest success might mean even more to the Lough Neagh men.