Marsh leads Ballina to victory over Star


BALLINA'S capacity to contrive a passionate performance from a seemingly desperate situation is: what has kept them in the top division of the national league lord over a decade.

Last night they tapped that deep well of inspiration to the point of overflow in this Sprite Cup final victory at the National Arena in Tallaght.

It seemed a remote possibility at the outset of the play offs on Friday that Ballina's worst league season could form the basis of a cup success.

However, it became clear from an early stage in yesterday's final that what went before in the league merely served to strengthen their resolve to win the cup.

The inspirational figures on court yesterday were not the much trumpeted former Neptune stars Tom O'Sullivan and Brendan O'Flaherty, who nevertheless played their part but, rather it was the old guard of 35 year old Deora Marsh and 28 year old Liam McHale.

Marsh was the only American on view to spark from the tip off and the fire which drove him to dunk and check all game long was never put out by an all too passive Star of the Sea.

The Belfast side seemed to suffer a similar fate to their cup final appearance three years ago when they reached half time still in contention against St Vincent's only to be devastated early in the second half.

At the time, coach Danny Fulton blamed a tough semi final the previous night for a tired performance.

Yesterday the memory of their thrilling 81-80 semi final win over Neptune less than 24 hours earlier may have been a distracting influence for the Northerners.

From the start Ballina ran the offences with more control and led from the first score of the game until shortly before the interval when Adrian Fulton put Star ahead for the first time with a three pointer.

However, by half time Ballina had drawn level at 39-all, through a Basket by Anthony McHale.

On the balance of play the Mayo men should have been ahead at that juncture, but Stars championship form had kept them in the game. However, when Ballina pressed forward early in the second half with Marsh and McHale in full flight, Fulton's squad seemed to allow the game to be taken to them.

Three minutes into the second half, with the teams level at 45 all, Jason Rubrite put Ballina into a lead that they built into a seven point advantage in the space of just over a minute as Marsh added two free throws and McHale picked off, a 10 foot jump shot.

Ballina knew they had the makings of a match winning lead and they pursued that objective with tigerish intensity.

Typical of Ballina's resolve was their response when Gabe Jackson pulled the deficit back to five points for the Belfast side. In the very next play Paul McStay landed his first score of the game a truly inspirational three pointer, which sent the Ballina hordes in the stadium into a frenzy.

The Mayo men thrived on the passionate urgings of their considerable following among the crowd of over 2,000 and as the game wore on the oppressive atmosphere in the arena seemed to bear down on Star.

At point guard, Adrian Fulton weaved and created to the very end but, with only Jackson helping him out to pose any serious offensive threat, Ballina never let go of their decisive lead in spite of the fact that Rub rite only tallied eight points in the entire game.

Much of Dupree's dilemma during the game was the constant presence of his marker McHale, who superbly shackled the big American while managing to score 20 points of his own in spite of being on four fouls for the last 16 minutes.