Connacht Intermediate Hurling Championship Semi-Final
Kevin Egan at Athleague
Four Roads put a dismal first-half showing behind them in Athleague on Bank Holiday Monday afternoon to record a three point win over Mayo champions Ballyhaunis, avenging their defeat to the same opponents 12 months ago and securing their place in the Connacht intermediate championship final for the first time in three years.
Two spectacular goal from Andy Lawlor and Johnny Coyne were the decisive scores for Four Roads in the latter stages of this contest but in truth the Roscommon side were dominant all across the field in the second half, blowing away Ballyhaunis with their superior hunger and desire.
A lacklustre warm-up gave away a clear hint as to what was to come in the early phases of this fixture, as six Four Roads players in a row looked to find their range at one point and all six pulled their strikes out to the left. At no stage however did anyone step in to remedy the matter and that told once the ball was thrown in as the Roscommon champions’ striking remained inaccurate and ill-thought out.
Eight first-half wides will see the forwards and midfielders get plenty of blame, however no less culpable was the “hit first and look up afterwards” approach of the back line, who more than held their own in the battle for primary possession. Wet conditions and a tricky cross breeze ensured that there were plenty of errors from players on both sides. However Ballyhaunis gave themselves a far better chance by demonstrating infinitely superior decision-making when in possession. Rarely did a Four Roads player hit the ball a yard short of the farthest he could hit it, while equally scarce were instances of Ballyhaunis players hitting the ball any harder than was required for it to hit the target.
Both sides got off the mark in the opening minutes but a typically well-crafted move saw Morgan Lyons strike the ball to the net on the run in the 11th minute, though Noel Fallon was unlucky not to keep the ball out after getting his hurl in the way. Keith Higgins’ dominance was the story of the remainder of the half his ability to find the target from frees or from play stood out in an otherwise scrappy and disjointed first half.
Four points came from the stick of the Mayo dual star while a point from play by Johnny Coyne and a free earned by the same player were all Four Roads could muster as they fell into a 1-5 to 0-3 interval deficit.
The tide turned irrevocably after the restart, kick-started by a long range free from Micheál Kelly after just twenty seconds. An Eamon Mulry flicked goal, finished to the net after David Dolan placed a fine sideline cut into the Ballyhaunis square, cut the gap to a single point, though Keith Higgins continued to keep Ballyhaunis in the ascendancy with some outstanding scoring from long range.
Four Roads needed something special to get them over the line and they got it in the closing five minutes when Jamie Lawlor produced a magnificent 20-metre strike to pick out the top corner of the net, facilitated by Johnny Moran’s tireless chasing down of what looked like a lost cause ball into the very corner of the attack. With Ballyhaunis rocked on their heels, Lawlor then delivered a glorious cross field ball that was collected by Johnny Coyne and slammed to the net from close range for a decisive winning goal.
FOUR ROADS: N. Fallon; C. Dowd, M. McLoughlin, J. Rodgerson; S. Curley, M. Kelly (0-2, one free, one ‘65), C. Coyle; J. Moran, C. Dolan; J. Moran, E. Mulry (1-0), J. Lawlor (1-1), D. Dolan (0-3, all frees); B. Lawlor, J. Coyne (1-2), A. Lawlor (0-1). Subs used: J. Fitzmaurice for B. Lawlor (half-time), J. Donnelly for A. Lawlor (46 mins)
BALLYHAUNIS: M. Walsh; P. Healy, A. Lyons, A. Brennan; F. Lyons, E. Collins, K. Kiely; P. Higgins, K. Higgins (0-10, four frees); B. Hunt, S. Griffen, M. Lyons (1-1); D. O’Brien, P. Kiely, S. Hoban (0-1). Subs used: T. Buckley for O’Brien (37 mins), K. McDermott for Griffen (46 mins), A. Phillips for A. Lyons (51 mins)
Wides: Four Roads – 13; Ballyhaunis – 5
Yellow Cards: Four Roads – none; Ballyhaunis – E. Collins, D. O’Brien, A. Brennan, K. Kiely and K. McDermott.
Red Cards: Four Roads – none; Ballyhaunis – none.
Referee: John Keane (Galway).
Player of the Match: Keith Higgins (Ballyhaunis). Andy Lawlor, Johnny Coyne and Micheál Kelly were all superb for Four Roads but it would be unjust to nominate anyone other than Keith Higgins for this slot after he scored ten points, six from play.