Down duo Mark Doran and Jerome Johnson guide Ballybay to Monaghan Championship semi-final stage
BALLYBAY booked their place in the Monaghan Senior Championship semi-finals with a gutsy 3-10 to 0-10 win over derby rivals Latton on Saturday.
The Pearse Brothers side, beaten finalists last year and in 2018, finished their Group Two schedule with three wins and are now guaranteed a top-two place. Managed by Kilcoo native Jerome Johnson senior and Longstone's Mark Doran, Ballybay began the group stage with wins against Clontibret and Monaghan Harps but a loss to Castleblayney Faughs a fortnight ago meant that last weekend's game amounted to a winner-takes-all shootout for them.
“Castleblayney beating us put us under pressure and we knew we had to go to Latton and win or we were out,” said former Down star Doran.
“It was a cut-and-thrust championship game for us because we knew that if we were beat, we were out, and if we won we were in the semi-finals and, to add a wee bit of spice, it was a local derby. I had watched Latton a few times this year and I was very impressed with them – they're a young team that is very well coached but to be fair Ballybay really stepped it up and we were full value for the win.
“But we're still only in the semi-final stage, there's two big hurdles to come.”
Managed by former Monaghan midfielder Owen Lennon, Latton have another bite at the cherry when they meet Conor McManus-spearheaded Clontibret on Sunday.
Meanwhile, in Group One, Scotstown lead the way. The An Bhoth side include a wealth of inter-county talent including goalkeeper Rory Beggan, the Hughes brothers Darren and Kieran, Shane Carey and Conor McCarthy and have been involved in the last eight county finals – winning six of those including a four in-a-row between 2015 and 2018.
Last season they accounted for Ballybay in a final that was competitive until half-time when Scotstown led 0-8 to 0-6. However, a Paul Finlay free was all Ballybay could muster in the second half and they were 10 points adrift at the final whistle.
The unbeaten defending champions finish their group stage fixtures with a round four game against second-placed Inniskeen on Sunday. Victory for Scotstown will open the door for Truagh to take the second spot if they can get the better of Magheracloone in the other game.
With their place in the last four confirmed, Doran and Johnson can concentrate on getting the injured players in their panel back to full fitness.
“We had a few boys back on Saturday,” Doran explained.
“Paul Finlay was back and Tomas Kerr was fit – they had both missed the Castleblayney game. Drew (Wylie) is still out injured but when you add those boys in along with Ryan Wylie, Chrissy McGuinness and Dessie Ward there is a lot of quality in Ballybay.
“It's all about trying to knit that all together and try and deliver that championship because it's one step at a time and whoever we play at that semi-final stage; it's going to be a battle.
“Scotstown are probably going to top the other group and then Truagh and Inniskeen are going well.
“In our group Latton and Clontibret will play off now and we'll see who comes through.
“Monaghan club football is tough and it's been good to get out of Down for a wee while to look at something different. It's been a breath of fresh air and I've enjoyed it so far but you're judged on results. If you deliver, you're great. If you don't… you're not so great.”