There was a real summer feeling in Athboy on Saturday evening as Na Fianna and Ballinlough went to head-to-head in the first round of the Intermediate Football Championship. Perfect conditions facilitated a rip roaring championship battle and the big crowd was well entertained as Na Fianna eventually ran out two point winners.
Na Fianna…………………………….2-9 Ballinlough…………………………..1-10
Over the course of the hour Na Fianna did just about enough to shade the verdict, the midfield dominance of Ollie Lewis provided the ideal platform for the likes of Daniel Queeney, Mick Foley and the outstanding Dean Barrett to prosper; and a tally of 2-9 in the absence of the injured Jamie Queeney would suggest that the winners have enough strength in depth to trouble most teams in the grade.
From a Ballinlough perspective the effort and commitment was superb but a lack of cohesion in attack was a problem. Only Ken Rothwell provided a constant threat, he was outstanding throughout hitting 1-3 from play and he was fouled on three occasions which led to pointed frees; had he been supplied with more possession it could have paved the way to a Ballinlough victory.
The match started slowly with both teams showing signs to first round nerves; Ballinlough missed a couple of close range frees before Tommy Mc Cullen and then Rothwell pointed to make it 0-2 to 0-1 in the 14th minute after Mick Foley had given Na Fianna an early lead. The Baconstown/Enfield combination made a major break-through in the 21st minute when Mick Foley found Dean Barrett close to goal and he blasted to the net to make it 1-1 to 0-2. Ballinlough hit two further points before the break from Rothwell and Fagan but Daniel Queeney was proving quite a handful for their defence and he hit three points in a five minute spell as Na Fianna held a one goal lead, 1-4 to 0-4, at half-time.
Na Fianna started the second-half well and points from Mick Foley and a lovely score on the run from Ollie Lewis left them five clear, 1-6 to 0-4, after 40 minutes. The game appeared to be drifting away from Ballinlough but Colm Mallen was moved to the half-forward line and he added more bite to their attack, Benji Smith and Padraig Muldoon were solid in defence as they outscored Na Fianna by 0-5 to 0-1 in the following 17 minute spell. Rothwell curled over a brilliant score from a tight angle and four pointed frees from; Seamus Fagan, Colm Mallen and Kevin Devine (2) hauled the North Meath outfit back into contention 1-7 to 0-9 with three minutes remaining.
But just when it seemed that Ballinlough had the momentum that would lead them to victory they were hit with a hammer blow, Dean Barrett made a probing run and supplied substitute Harisson Silke who finished to the net. It was a cruel blow for Ballinlough but they didn’t throw in the towel and amazingly only seconds later they responded with a goal of their own when Rothwell ran onto a Colm Mallen pass and finished low past the advancing Shane Geraghty to leave it; 2-7 to 1-9, with two minutes remaining.
A Mick Foley free followed by a Barrett point pushed Na Fianna three clear before Mallen curled over a response for Ballinlough but they needed a goal and despite launching a couple of late attacks they couldn’t make the break through as Na Fianna held on for victory.
Ballinlough: K. Mc Guinness, B. Smith, P. Muldoon, R. Farrell, Junior O’ Reilly, L. Maguire, Colm Mallen (0-2, 1f), D. Muldoon, Cian Mallen, Tommy Mc Cullen (0-1), K. Devine (0-2f), R. Mc Guinness, S. Fagan (0-2, 1f), S. Deevey, K. Rothwell (1-3). Subs: E. O’ Reilly for Deevy, S. Geraghty for R. Mc Guinness and S. Byrne for Fagan.