Ballyboden St Enda’s always in control against St Loman’s
Dublin club are just one victory short of a first Leinster club football title
Shane Flynn of St Loman’s chases Conal Keaney of Ballyboden St Enda’s during the Leinster club senior football championship semi-final at Cusack Park, Mullingar. Photograph: Inpho
Ballyboden St Enda’s 1-11 St Loman’s 0-9
They defied most predictions to win the Dublin title and Ballyboden St Enda’s clearly aren’t finished yet. Despite a horror show of refereeing this game was always in their control, leaving them just one victory short of a first Leinster club football title.
Standing in their way on Sunday week are seven-time champions Portlaoise, although that’s a worry for another day. Getting past St Loman’s on home territory was never going to easy, and while their five-point win was entirely merited, the biggest obstacle for both teams ended up being the match referee, Fergal Smyth from Offaly.
“He seemed to make it difficult for both teams,” suggested Andy McEntee, the Ballyboden manager, with enormous diplomacy. “It wasn’t a dirty game because it couldn’t have been a dirty game. It was like a game of basketball. You put a hand on a fella and it’s a free. That’s disappointing.”
Indeed Smyth awarded 30 frees in the second half alone – one per minute of play. St Loman’s finished with 14-men after Ken Casey was straight red-carded at the end for a strike on Conal Keaney, although that was actually one of the few decisions that Smyth seemed certain about. Whatever rulebook he brought along to Cusack Park clearly differed to that of both managers, and for Luke Dempsey, the St Loman’s manager, there was no hiding that frustration.
“The referee was the centre of attention out there,” said Dempsey, “and both Andy McEntee and I just could not get over some of the decisions. I don’t blame the referee as much as who appointed him. He came out of his county with a very average reputation, and that game was too big for him. Simple as that.
“We didn’t perform, but there’s a lot to be said for being allowed to perform as well. Really and truly, a Leinster semi-final, where some of the clubs left would beat a division four county team, and deserve to be refereed by an intercounty referee. We had Cormac Reilly for a very ‘dangerous” game in Aughrim, and he did a brilliant job. On both sides. But some of the decisions here were unfathomable.
“Because the game just could not get going, and both teams tried to get it going, wanted to move the ball quickly through the hands, but it was a just a terrible game to be involved with from that perspective. And that’s not taking away from the fact Ballyboden, who probably would have won no matter who was refereeing it. That’s not the point. But with a referee like that, a game can go away from you in minutes, and that’s what happened.”
Indeed the game was finely balanced for the opening 20 minutes, before it swung irrevocably in favour of the Dublin champions. St Loman’s saw their first and only goal chance from David Windsor brilliant saved by Paul Durcan, who with that stop alone perfectly justified his weekend return trip from Qatar, where he recently moved for work purposes. (Durcan raced away afterwards for the return flight, but expects to be back again for the final).
Then, having survived that scare, Ballyboden struck with the decisive goal. Michael Darragh Macauley was making his presence increasingly felt, and with one typically deft pass found out Keaney: after his brief charge at goal Keaney passed off to Sam Molony, who completed the move with perfect accuracy. Andrew Kerin added another free soon after to send the Dublin champions double-scores up, 1-7 to 0-5, and the rest played out like symphony to inevitability.
Stephen Hiney and Shane Clayton guarded the defence like dogs, Macauley’s incredible work rate at midfield was ably assisted by Declan O’Mahony, while Keaney’s and Kerin’s accuracy up front ensured that scoring advantage was always comfortable. St Loma’s could only manage three points in the second half, all frees from John Heslin, and that was never going to win them anything.
For their manager, however, the constant over-refereeing was at least partly to blame: “I’m not saying the referee caused us to lose,” said Dempsey. “. A Leinster semi-final is too big a match to be stop-start like that, when both teams are trying to play open football, fast football, with no cynicism. And when you’re trying to make inroads, and four points suddenly went to seven, you’re facing an uphill battle.”
“And when I saw the referee before the game I was very, very sceptical. I always study the referee. It asks a big question about the appointment of referees for these big Leinster matches, when you see the crowd, both mentors on the sideline, so frustrated by some outrageous decisions.”
Anyway, Ballyboden return to the Firhouse Road with increasing confidence, and for McEntee, that confidence has been increasing with every game: “You have so many good teams in Dublin, so it’s always going to be hard to get out, and when we did, it’s kind of hard to refocus. And in the immediate aftermath the feeling is that it’s been a great year.
“That was one of the issues, especially going into the quarter-final against St Pat’s (of Louth), but once you get across that hurdle it wasn’t too difficult to focus on this game. But you can see there’s probably nothing too spectacular about the way we play. We just work hard.”
And that work keeps paying off
BALLYBODEN ST ENDA’S: P Durcan; B Dwan, S Hiney, S Clayton; S O’Connor, D Nelson, R McDaid; M D Macauley (0-1), D O’Mahony; D O’Reilly, C Basquel (0-1), D Davey; S Molony (1-1), C Keaney (0-4, all frees), A Kerin (0-4, three frees).
Subs: D McCabe for Davey (48 mins), S Durkin for Dwan (54 mins).
ST LOMAN’S: J Daly; G Grehan, S Flynn, J O’Toole; N O’Toole, G Glennon, D Whelan; A Gaffney, P Sharry (0-1); K Lynam, J Heslin (0-7, six frees), D Windsor; K Casey (0-1), K Reilly, S Dempsey. Subs: C Reilly for Windsor (half-time), C Kilmurray for O’Toole (38 mins), R O’Toole for Lynam (42 mins), G Hickey for Dempsey (47 mins).
Referee: Fergal Smyth (Offaly)