It took them nineteen games to get this far and Ballybrown’s junior B footballers were in no mood not to end their exhausting season on a high.
Victory over Cromane in Sunday’s Munster Club final in Knockaderry not only shocked the odds by inflicting the first defeat on a Kerry side in the last twelve years of the competition but also marked the first competitive win by a Limerick football club over a Kerry side since the nineteenth century.
Nor was there any question of them deserving their success. Refusing to be overawed by opponents who’d sparked off a run of eleven successive titles for the Kingdom in 2007, they took the initiative right from the start, refused to be unnerved by Cromane equalising just before the break, fighting back to level after being blitzed on the restart, shrugging off a missed goal chance and a saved penalty before regaining their lead and, just after seeing it disappear, raising the game’s only green flag as it moved into added time.
In fact, the scoreline scarcely reflects the gap between the teams.
Despite fielding current Kerry county star Donnchadh Walsh and former legend Seán O’Sullivan, Cromane were outrun, outfought and out thought by a lineup who showed none of the deference Limerick clubs have traditionally shown to Kerry opposition.
Ballybrown scrapped for every ball, forced the turnovers and had the legs in the end to showboat their way into history.
With the breeze behind them, Cromane dominated early possession but struggled to find space inside the scoring zone until they drew a free for Paul Patrick O’Sullivan to convert. It looked like the signal to move on but the game changed once Ballybrown started to move the ball from deep.
Ross Griffin equalised after collecting from Andrew Cliffe’s efforts to keep the ball in play in the corner and Ballybrown’s horizons lifted when they won the resulting kickout, piled forward in numbers and were denied a goal when David Hall’s finish was blocked, but then went in front when Nigel Mann sent over off the rebound.
James Hall then added a free before Cromane found a way out of defence that ended with Darren Houlihan pointing a free.
However, the Clarina side were still dominating possession as they pressed their opponents back into their half and widened the gap off Shane Kenny’s fisted end to a passing move and Mann finishing off another combination.
Coming up to the break, the Kingdom side finally found some focus to their play. O’Sullivan struck coming up on the left, Mikey Houlihan pointed with a high looping shot and, from the kickout, Walsh’s high fetch found former county team-mate Seán O’Sullivan to equalise.
However, the Clarina club had the last word as James Hall’s free left them with a half-time lead of 0-6 to 0-5.
Cromane restarted with a bang as Darren Houlihan drew them level with a free off the first attack. Seán O’Sullivan then gave them the lead from the resulting kickout which was widened by another Houlihan free and those two furious minutes looked to have finally confirmed their favourites tag.
But that was as far as they got. Ballybrown regrouped to take the sting out of the Kerry club’s resurrection, sealed off the leaks at the back and left Walsh to cover the length of the pitch on his own with no colleague given the space to take the pass. A Hall free halved the margin and it was game on again when James Garvey collected off a move up the right to put the sides level again.
They could have regained the advantage if Mann’s shot off a dribble hadn’t been deflected for a ‘45’ and another goal chance escaped from their grasp when, after Ross Griffin was pulled down by Paudie McMahon, the Cromane goalie redeemed himself by saving Cillian Cliffe’s penalty.
Eventually their hunger paid when Hall ended fifteen scoreless minutes with a free but that was cancelled out when a rare Cromane sally from the siege ended with Seán O’Sullivan sending over a long one at the other end. Undaunted, Hall regained Ballybrown’s lead with his only strike from play but that, too, was met by a Houlihan free.
However, the Limerick champions were not giving up and reward finally came their way on the stroke of normal time when a free painstakingly created for Hall, agonisingly fell inches short of the distance only to be parried off the line by McMahon and into the path of Kenny to fist home the goal.
Cromane tried to find a way back in the five added minutes but the only convertible free faced fourteen men on the goal line and was sent over by Houlihan before the winners ran down the clock by playing keep-ball in the top right corner.
SCORERS, BALLYBROWN: James Hall 0-5 (4 frees), Shane Kenny 1-1, Nigel Mann 0-2, Ross Griffin, James Garvey 0-1 each; CROMANE: Darren Houlihan 0-5 (5 frees), Seán O’Sulliva 0-3 (1 free), Paul Patrick O’Sullivan 0-2 (1 free), Mikey Houlihan 0-1.
BALLYBROWN: Christopher Gleeson; Robert O’Grady, Evan Loftus, Kevin Foster; Mikey Kiely, Kenny Power, Adrian Roberts; Shane Kenny, Brian Griffin; Nigel Mann, James Garvey, James Hall; David Hall, Ross
Griffin, Andrew Cliffe. SUBS: Richie Kenny for Robert O’Grady (35 minutes), Cillian Cliffe for Andrew Cliffe (42 minutes), Kilian Gavin for Nigel Mann (51 minutes), Lee Doolan for Mikey Kiely (black card,
CROMANE: Paudie McMahon; Stephen Foley, John Michael Foley, Liam
Teehan; Finbarr Casey, Niall Dennehy, Ethan Griffin; Donnchadh Walsh, Darren Houlihan; Shane Ahern, Micheál Shaughnessy, Conor Sugrue; Paul Patrick O’Sullivan, Seán O’Sullivan, Mikey Houlihan. SUBS: Seán Teehan for Stephen Foley (half-time), Emmett Casey for Shane Ahern
(half-time), Cathal Crosby for Niall Dennehy (41 minutes), Brendan Foley for Ethan Griffin (49 minutes), Shane O’Neill for Paul Patrick O’Sullivan (49 minutes), Martin Sweeney for Liam Teehan (black card, 51 minutes).
REFEREE: Ciarán O’Regan (Cork).
MAN OF THE MATCH: Ballybrown’s win was forged when they kept Cromane scoreless from play for the first twenty-five minutes, inspired by the incessant tackling and covering of Mikey Kiely who not only closed off the spaces but also set up many of the passing movements that supplied their attacks.
For a full gallery of pictures from this game, see www.limerickleader.ie