Frank Nelligan reports on a thrilling Desmond League Premier Division match last weekend between Newcastle West and Ballingarry.
To paraphrase the seminal line from George Orwell’s Animal Farm, “All points are equal but some points are more equal than others”. Ballingarry and Newcastle West both earned a point after their extraordinary 5-5 draw in the Premier Division top-of-the-table clash on Sunday morning but the two sides will look on the result very differently.
For Ballingarry, it was definitely a case of two points dropped as they went 5-2 ahead in the 76th minute when Padraig O’Reilly tapped in from close range. Newcastle West will regard it as a point rescued as much as gained, with Mark Doherty completing the comeback when he equalised from a quickly-taken short corner three minutes and eight seconds into injury-time. The point could also have implications for Newcastle West far beyond this match as they will be able to point to the importance and rewards of a never-say-die attitude in the obstacles that lie ahead in the remaining two-thirds of their title challenge.
The first of the ten goals came in the 13th minute. Francis Kiely sent in a precision free-kick from the left and it was met with a clean header from centre-half Brian Fitzgerald which gave Power no chance. Fitzgerald, who had a fine game, had actually started the move that led to the free-kick with a typically robust header out of defence.
In the early stages, Newcastle West were unable to carve open Ballingarry’s well-organised defence but they did manage to offer greater penetration from the 20th minute onwards. The attacking forays of right-back Paudie Fitzgerald were significant in this regard. In the 24th minute, he delivered a through ball to Tony Quaid who went on a mazy run before screwing wide of the left-hand post. Three minutes later, Fitzgerald played a one-two with Doherty and then released Daniel Power, whose first-touch effort was turned behind for a corner by goalkeeper John O’Grady.
It came as no surprise when Fitzgerald played a key role in Newcastle West’s equaliser in the 39th minute. He delivered a 30-yard crossfield pass to Seoirse Joyce who controlled the ball with his back to goal on the edge of the box and then, with the confidence of a player in a rich vein of scoring form, sent the ball sailing into the top right-hand corner of the net with a spectacular overhead kick.
Newcastle West thought they had done enough to earn half-time parity but it wasn’t to be as Ballingarry regained the lead in the 44th minute when a Kiely free-kick was flicked to the net by Mike Corrigan.
The Newcastle West management team of Paul Slater and Eddie Brouder settled for positional switches rather than changes of personnel at half-time. Left-back Doherty and left-sided midfielder Scott Hurley were interchanged, as were right-sided midfielder Sean Fitzgerald and striker Luke O’Brien.
Doherty has a decent long throw and, seven minutes into the second-half, he fired a throw into the goal area, where Quaid forced a point-blank save from O’Grady.
Newcastle West’s task became twice as difficult when they fell 3-1 behind in the 56th minute. Influential midfielder Marcus Moore passed to Denis Kelly, who was brought down in the penalty area by Thomas Geary. Kiely stepped up to take the spot-kick and duly found the bottom left-hand corner.
Having conceded three goals for the first time this season, Newcastle West could have become rattled. They didn’t and that’s because they were able to cling to an even more important statistic, that they were unbeaten.
They almost pulled a goal back within a minute when Joyce headed over from a Quaid corner and they did pull a goal back two minutes later when Sean Fitzgerald passed to Joyce who cut inside and fired past O’Grady from 25 yards.
Newcastle West now sought an equaliser. They came close twice in two minutes, an off-balance Joyce heading over from a deflected cross by Paudie Fitzgerald and Doherty sidefooting just too high from 24 yards from a square pass by Quaid.
The betting-in-running at this stage would have pointed to an equaliser for the visitors but the odds aren’t always right, as Ballingarry proved when they stretched their lead against the run of play in the 66th minute. Dean Clancy rivalled Joyce’s first goal for the goal of the match accolade when he turned his marker and rifled inside the far post from 26 yards.
Slater and Brouder brought on Aaron Geary in the 71st minute but, more importantly, they changed their formation, going with three at the back and moving Doherty into the centre of midfield, where he was to be an influential presence for the remainder of the game.
As part of the change, Hurley was deployed on the right side of midfield and he was only there three minutes when he delivered a cross that was met with a Power header which was turned onto the crossbar.
Keith Wolstenholme’s famous line from the 1966 World Cup Final, “They think it’s all over, it is now” would have been appropriate after Ballingarry made it 5-2 in the 76th minute. O’Reilly started and finished the move, passing to Kelly and then positioning himself perfectly at the far post to convert a cross from Clancy.
If the score had remained at 5-2 even for a few minutes, even such a resilient team as Newcastle West might have despaired at the magnitude of the task. However, they were given cause for positivity when they pulled a goal back straight from the pass-off. Doherty’s delivery from the right received a slight touch from Joyce, enough to get it past O’Grady and provide the striker with his second hat-trick in three weeks.
That goal gave Newcastle West belief that a rescue mission could prove successful. They attacked with verve. Sean Fitzgerald was agonisingly off-target in the 79th minute when Geary’s cross was touched onto him by Power.
A minute later, Fitzgerald was not to be denied. From a long ball by Doherty, Fitzgerald’s initial attempt was parried by O’Grady and when the ball broke to him again he looped it over the keeper from fourteen yards.
In search of an unlikely equaliser, Newcastle West exerted constant pressure for the next ten minutes or so. However, with O’Grady proving commanding under the high ball, Ballingarry were holding firm and manager George Quinlivan must have been expecting that his side would regain their position at the top of the table.
Then, deep in injury-time, Newcastle West won a corner. Showing urgency and astuteness, Power played a quick, short corner to Doherty, who ran with the ball for a few yards until he spotted an opening, which he bravely and clinically exploited by drilling a low shot from 20 yards just inside the left-hand post.
Could there be more drama? Could either side fashion a winner in the seconds that remained? Ballingarry almost did, a cross-cum-shot from substitute Kieran Condron blocked by the legs of keeper Power.
What a game.
Ballingarry - John O’Grady, Colin Doherty, Mike Corrigan, Brian Fitzgerald, Pat Healy, Francis Kiely, Padraig O’Reilly, Marcus Moore, Denis Kelly, Darragh O’Grady, Dean Clancy. Subs: Kieran Condron for O’Grady (70 mins), Richard O’Kelly, Frank Minogue, Pat Kenrick.
Newcastle West - Keith Power, Paudie Fitzgerald, Mark Doherty, Anthony O’Donnell, Thomas Geary, Sean Fitzgerald, Tony Quaid, Daniel Power, Scott Hurley, Luke O’Brien, Seoirse Joyce. Subs: Aaron Geary for O’Brien (71 mins), James Quaid, James Cussen.
Referee - Donie O’Gorman