Ballina 23-19 Omagh
Never-say-die Ballina pull off stunning victory
Boyhood dreams were never this good. Picture the scene! Injury time had arrived; Ballina were down to 14 men, Omagh had just taken a one-point lead and the final whistle would sound the next time the ball went dead.
Ballina had battled impressively all afternoon but had been caught and passed in the last minute of normal time and were staring a heartbreaking defeat straight in the face.
Out-half Kieran Lindsay had been yellow-carded, a number of the home squad were in sick-bay and Omagh were within one play of victory.
Craig McCormick took the ball in his hands for the restart and within seconds launched the most perfect kick-off into the ether. Its trajectory allowed the ravenous chasers to race towards its expected destination and as it dropped from the clouds, Darragh Whyte and the Ballina men were there to win it.
Mickey Murphy then took charge and moved the ball right and then left. Inch by inch the home side moved closer to the posts; there were thoughts that a drop-goal would win it for the Ballina men but they had other plans.
The large home crowd ‘oohed’ and ‘aahed’ as the Ballina men showed great composure to move the oval piece of leather through the hands. Then, it arrived in the grasp of Chris O’Neill. The full-back danced to the right and found a yard of space; he saw a big Omagh prop approaching at pace and swivelled to his left.
Suddenly, O’Neill was in open space; all around the ground it dawned on people that there was nobody left between O’Neill and the line. The man from the open plains of New Zealand raced for the whitewash before taking a gleeful swan-dive into legend as Heffernan Park erupted.
People of all ages completely lost the run of themselves; hairy men danced in the evening sun and kissed and hugged everyone within reach; children raced hither and tither and glamorous ladies launched handbags and gladrags into Moyside air.
The most dramatic of victories had been secured and not even the most romanticised Hollywood director would have imagined such a finish.
The joy evident in Heffernan Park when the final whistle sounded had to be seen to be believed. This might just have been the first game of the All Ireland League but the manner of victory was monumental.
Ballina had been 15-6 clear at half time and 18-16 in front after 78 minutes in a match that was full to the brim with excitement, entertainment and exhilaration.
The start had been a learning process, Omagh started like a train and powered forward. Their big pack looked to make an impression and Ballina took time to adjust to the new challenge but the home side were tackling like demons with Alex Corduff, Shane Clarke, Andrew West, Fergal Tully and Calum Quinn to the fore.
Ballina were hit by an injury blow in that first period when Quinn had to leave the field and Omagh went in front with a penalty from out-half Stuart Ballantine but the home side hit back immediately.
A power-packed attack through the middle was carried deep into the ’22 by Dan Molloy and when Mickey Murphy and Kieran Lindsay spread the ball wide, Tim Wallace was on hand to squeeze over in the corner.
Omagh hit back in the 27th minute with another penalty from Ballantine as the Ballina defensive line was tested to the limit but they refused to yield and their persistence was rewarded at the other end when Lindsay got over for a try and then Aiden McNulty did likewise when he finished a great period of play with a well-deserved score.
In truth, Ballina should have wrapped up the result at that stage, but wasted two golden chances of tries and those oversights nearly came back to haunt them.
The second half was a ding-dong affair. Omagh came looking for scores but the Ballina pack was winning the battles and the home side’s defensive line was excellent.
Fergal Tully, Henry Hewson and the big men in the engine-room were putting everything on the line and Darragh Whyte moved Ballina on to the 18-point mark with a well-hit penalty.
However, Omagh were closing fast and Ballantine kicked a penalty before Kieran Lindsay was sin-binned with four minutes remaining. Omagh scented victory and went for it. Luke Hanson got over for a converted try and then, as injury time arrived Ballantine split the sticks with a penalty to put Omagh in front, 19-18, and win the game – or so we thought.
There was one play remaining, but not even Lazarus would have contemplated a Ballina victory at that stage. Craig McCormick kicked the restart of his life. Darragh Whyte led the charge and somehow Ballina won the ball deep in Omagh territory.
Murphy directed matters like a battle-field general and after a succession of phases the ball arrived in the hands of O'Neill. The full-back noticed an inch of space and a prop minding the gap. He danced to the right, shimmied to the left and as the place went absolutely crazy he swan-dived over the line to initiate pure mayhem on the banks of the Moy.
Moments later, the final whistle sounded and the fairytale ending had been delivered at the end of a special day for Ballina RFC and all who love the old club.
BALLINA: C O’Neill, D Whyte, C Quinn, A Corduff, D Brunker, K Lindsay, M Murphy; C Mason, L Sweeney, S Clarke, A West, A McNulty, T Wallace, F Tully, D Molloy
Repacements; J Keaveney, H Hewson, J Sweeney, C Mullarkey, C McCormick
OMAGH: K Alexander, R Hemphill, P Todd, Jonny Sproule, Jamie Sproule, S Allen, A Longwell, M Clyde, S McCain, S Ballantine, R Mitchell, L Hanson, S Barr, N Brown, S Elliot
REF: J Moloney (Munster)