Suncroft, Kildare 1-8
Inspired by the classiest player on view, their captain, Michael Harnett, Kildare champions, Suncroft qualified for the semi-final of the Leinster Club Intermediate Football Champions when pipping Westmeath kingpins, Ballinagore thanks to an injury time point. It was fitting that it was Harnett who should prove the matchwinner for he had been outstanding all the way through and he broke Ballinagore hearts with a goal just on the hour mark when the hosts thought they were within sight of victory.
Louth referee, Mr. Paul Finnegan who did not endear himself to either set of supporters in Ballinagore on Sunday elected to add on four minutes of injury time and up popped Michael Harnett once more to take a pass from Killian Brennan before steering home the winning point.
Elation for Suncroft parallelled heartbreak for Ballinagore, who led by four points with just three minutes of normal time remaining. However, all credit to the visitors who never gave up the ghost and with Trevor Moran leading the charge from midfield, they pummelled the home defence, which finally wilted.
In a game which was played in a good, sporting fashion one flash point led to the dismissal of Westmeath inter county star, Michael Ennis and Suncroft midfielder, Martin Brennan. Both received straight red cards following a very timid looking incident and certainly the loss of Ennis was a major setback for his Ballinagore colleagues.
On a bitingly cold afternoon, it was Ballinagore who were quicker to settle but after chances were missed at either end, it took an Eoin Miller free to open the scoring on five minutes. The home side put together a splendid move on ten minutes involving Thomas McDaniel, David Dillon and James Durkan before Shane Heraty was placed for a splendid point.
Two minutes later, Michael Harnett finally got Suncroft off the mark, converting a free after he had been impeded and four minutes later, he reacted smartest to an Alan Middleton punt to level the game. There was to be just one further addition the scoreline in the opening moiety and it came from the boot of Eoin Miller who floated over the lead point from a free.
In the final moments of the half, Ballinagore had a couple of gilt edge chances particularly one from Ciaran Carey who was most unfortunate to see his goal bound shot cannon back off the upright with Suncroft custodian, Paul Sinnott well and truly beaten. Anthony Rainbow, who had a rather quiet game by his standards came to his side`s rescue at the death when he claimed a very dangerous ball close to his own line.
On the change of ends there was certainly more urgency in evidence and Suncroft had restored parity by the second minute with Alan Middleton hitting the target. Thomas McDaniel, who was a handful for the visitors defence all day, played a key role in restoring Ballinagore`s advantage, firstly winning a free which Eoin Miller converted before raising a white flag himself after a flowing move.
The men in maroon and white moved three clear on nine minutes when Michael Ennis fired over.
Suncroft had a justifiable claim for a penalty when Michael Harnett was bundled over close in but the referee indicated a 13 metre free which the former duly converted. The margin was down to the minimum almost immediately when substitute, Ciaran Dowling who had just replaced David Dillon drilled over a good point.
But Ballinagore kicked on again and Michael Ennis and full forward, David Deegan worked an opening for James Durkan who applied the finish. A splendid piece of interplay between Shane Heraty and Dan Gavin saw the latter push Ballinagore three points in front again as the game entered the final quarter.
Suncroft had no intention of giving this game up without a fight and after Michael Ennis and Martin Brennan had been sidelined, Trevor Moran lifted his side with a point. With six minutes remaining, a superb point from Thomas McDaniel restored Ballinagore`s advantage and when Dan Gavin added his second, things were looking rosy for the home side.
However, Michael Harnett`s heroics were about to change all that. A point in the 28th minute, from a free, was followed by their stunning goal. On reflection, it emanated from a moment of hesitancy on the part of the home defence and when the adventurous John Brown ballooned the ball towards Paddy Maloney`s goal, the nerves began to jangle.
And with good reason. It was a ball Ballinagore simply had to win but unfortunately for the men in maroon and white, it was worked to Harnett and he duly crashed the leather beyond the helpless Maloney. The impetus was now with the visitors and Suncroft crushed Ballinagore when Captain Fantastic grabbed a pass from Killian Brennan and slotted the winner three minutes into stoppage time.
Along with Harnett, Suncroft were well served by John Philips and John Brown in defence, the tireless Trevor Moran in midfield and Alan Middleton, Killian Brennan, who had replaced the selected Cathal Byrne before the throw-in and Liam Harnett.
When the Ballinagore management reflect on Sunday`s outcome, there are areas which might merit consideration. Too often in the second period, the half forward line, in particular, were sucked out of position and inevitably, it put greater pressure on the home side`s defence. It also meant that players such as Thomas McDaniel and David Deegan were left isolated and in those circumstances, chances were somewhat restricted.
However, Ballinagore are still on a learning curve and they have made great strides in the past few years and no doubt they will stake a claim for inclusion at the highest level in the coming years. On a day of ultimate disappointment on Sunday, Pat Heduan, Peter Deegan,, Stuart Gavin, Michael Ennis, Dan Gavin and Thomas McDaniel worked extremely hard to take the Westmeath champions through to a second provincial semi-final but it was not to be.
Scorers: Suncroft - M. Harnett 1-5, A. Middleton, C. Dowling and T. Moran 0-1 each. Ballinagore - E. Miller 0-3, D. Gavin 0-2, S. Heraty, T. McDaniel, M. Ennis, J. Durkan and D. Deegan 0-1 each.
Suncroft: Paul Sinnott; John Philips, Anthony Toft, John Corr; Maurice Moran, Anthony Rainbow, John Brown; Trevor Moran, Martin Brennan; Alan Middleton, Killian Brennan, Michael Harnett, captain; Liam Harnett, David Dillon, Michael Conneely. Subs. Ciaran Dowling for Dillon, Cathal Byrne for Conneely.
Ballinagore: Paddy Maloney; Louis Ennis, Enda McCann, Pat Heduan; Kieran Deegan, Peter Deegan, Ciaran Carey; Stuart Gavin, captain, Eoin Miller; Shane Heraty, Dan Gavin, Michael Ennis; Thomas McDaniel, David Deegan, James Durkan. Subs. JJ Hegarty for Heraty, James Sheerin for Durkan.
Referee: Mr. Paul Finnegan, Louth.