Charlestown Sarsfields suffered an agonising 2-8 t 0-12 defeat at the hands of near neighbours Ballaghdereen in round 2 of the group stages of the county senior championship in an intriguing contest played at Fr O`Hara Park, Charlestown recently.
Like all ties between the two protagonists there was little or nothing between them with the game going down to the wire but ultimately it was the visitors who prevailed with the small matter of the two goals in their scoring column proving the all important difference at the final whistle.
The Sarsfields were buoyed by the inclusion from the start of county star Thomas Parsons making his first appearance in the green and white for close on sixteen months and he was accorded a great ovation by both sets of supporters when it was announced he was going to start in his customary midfield station.
The opening exchanges were tight and even in the main with the Sarsfields holding a slender 0-3 to-2 lead after twelve minutes with Matt Lenehan and Paul Towey hitting two fine points from play while Colm Maye tapped over a free from close range to give the Sarsfields a slight edge.
All was to change minutes later however when Ballaghdereen were awarded a penalty following a foul by Sarsfields keeper Kenneth Brennan on an inrushing Ballagh forward Dylan Feeney with Andy Moran dispatching the ball to the net from the spot in clinical fashion. Cian Hanley pointed from the resultant kick-out to extend the visitors lead to three with the Sarsfields in a little bit of turmoil as they were struggling to cope with the Ballaghdereen runners coming from deep.
Niall Murphy steadied the ship for the Sarsfields with a terrific long distance point and Paddy Goldrick added to the green and white total with a fine individual score to bring the home side right back into contention.
The visitors regained the initiative with a couple of good points with Paul Towey responding for the Sarsfields but it was Ballagh who rounded off the scoring as Cormac Doohan hit the last point of the half to leave the visitors in a good place as they led 1-6 to 0-6 and one would have to say it was deserved as had they been more proficient in front of goal they would have been much further ahead.
The visitors drew first blood in the second half with a neat Andy Moran point. The Sarsfields needed a response and it duly arrived with Thomas Parsons raising the decibel levels among the home support with an inspirational score.
Both sides traded points with Niall Murphy again clipping over a quality score for the Sarsfields as the intensity levels ratcheted up and chances were spurned at both ends of the pitch. Paddy Goldrick had a great chance of a goal for the Sarsfields but his shot was well saved by the Ballaghdereen keeper . Ballaghdereen weren`t as profligate with theirs however as minutes later they enjoyed a nice piece of good fortune when a shot from Eoghan Jordan took a deflection off a Sarsfields hand and looped over a stranded Kenneth Brennan in the Sarsfields goal and nestled in the back of the net to put real daylight between the teams with twelve left on the clock.
Andy Moran had a great chance to put the game beyond the Sarsfields reach two minutes later when he rounded his marker but his shot from close range dribbled harrowingly the wrong side of the post much to the relief of a Sarsfields side that were now very much on the rack.
The game looked gone from the green and white as Ballagh seemingly had that priceless ability to secure the scores when the need was greatest. The home side threw off the shackles however in the final ten minutes and proceeded to play their best and most effective football sparked primirally by the twin threat of Niall Murphy and Paul Towey with the latter landing two termendous points from play to breathe new life into an ailing green and white challenge.
Towey and Murphy were inspirational in the closing stages with Conor O`Donoghue following their lead as he stormed forward to land an inspired score which Colm Maye added to minutes later as he clipped over a superb free from a difficult angle following a foul on the rampant Towey, a comeback of gargantuan proportions looked very much on the cards as Ballaghdereen ceded control in all areas of the pitch.
The clock was now in the red as both teams scrapped for possession with the middle third a virtual war zone as bodies were hurled at every breaking ball. . The Sarsfields did have one final chance late on when a Jack Reilly rasper which was arrowing towards the top corner of the Ballagh net was somehow deflected out for a forty five at the last second as both sets of players held their collective breaths. That was the Sarsfields last chance to salvage anything from the game with referee Kevin Connelly blowing the whistle for full time immediately after which sparked contrasting scenes of emotion in both camps.
The Sarsfields will have cause to rue a couple of goal chances they failed to convert but Ballaghdereen too it must be said will be concerned at their wide count which reached double digits at the end of a breathless and good quality encounter.
This victory sees Ballaghdereen qualify for the quarter-finals with the Sarsfields out of the championship as this defeat and Belmullet`s victory over Claremorris in the other game in the section sees the men from the barony of Erris also qualify from the group. The Sarsfields and Claremorris go head to head in the final game of the group to decide which teams secures their senior status for 2020 with the losers entering a relegation play-off.
The Sarsfields had good performances from the Gerard McLoughlin, Aidan Hopkins, Aidan Higgins and Conor O`Donoghue in defence. Gareth O`Donnell battled valiantly in the middle of the park as did the returning Thomas Parsons as they enjoyed a battle royal with their Ballaghdereen counterparts.
Paul Towey and Niall Murphy were terrific in attack for the Sarsfields scoring seven points between them from play and looking a real threat every time they received the ball with their pace and movement causing all kinds of problems for a Ballagh defence that creaked at times but never cracked which speaks volumes for their tenacity and resolve.
Paddy Goldrick enjoyed some good moments as did Colm Maye who was accurate from frees with young Jack Mahon also showing up well on his introduction.
The Sarsfields have showed up well in their two games in the championship but the opening round defeat to Belmullet cost them dear and left them very much on the back foot going into a game against Ballaghdereen who have it must be said become something of a real bogey team in the last twenty five years or so as this was their sixth victory over the green and white in championship fare in that said time period.
Martin Mulvaney and his management team have much to mull over ahead of the Claremorris challenge but this is a game they have the winning of if they go at it from the throw-in and play front foot football.