Ballygalget overcome red card to beat Ballycran well - but maybe not well enough
Down SHC round robin, round five: Ballygalget 3-13 Ballycran 0-17
NOBODY knows. That phrase, uttered by victorious Ballygalget boss Garrett Dynes, could apply to various aspects of this match, including a red card, the potentially crucial last score, the losers' under-performance, and/or the outcome whenever any of the three traditional rivals from the Ards meet. Also, which two teams will reach the decider.
Details of this report too, with no announcements of substitutions and a few starting players wearing different, higher numbers than listed on the virtual programme.
Yet details rarely matter in Down club hurling – the rivalries going back scores of years over-ride everything else.
Amazingly, though, amidst the chaos and confusion of the controversial last score, there were enough cool heads in the Ballycran camp to take a point from a '65' they should never have been awarded, rather than go for goal. A shot at goal from visiting sub Conor Dorrian clearly deflected over the end line off the back of a club-mate – but the match officials decided to award a '65', which Conor Woods converted.
Winners can usually afford to be magnanimous but Ballygalget may yet have to cause to regret that erroneous late score as it gives Ballycran an advantage over them in the standings.
Three goals from the home half-forwards – Mark Fisher, Ben Toner, and Adam Doran – had already ensured victory for the 14-man hosts but the placed ball that Woods converted in the seventh minute of added time meant the visitors have a slightly better head-to-head record.
'Cran beat 'Galget by six points in round two – 0-24 to 2-12 – albeit after extra time, so perhaps the latter's lawyers should be scrutinising the small print of the head-to-head regulations…
The upshot – apparently - is that Ballygalget must make the short journey to Portaferry and win by more than the four-point margin by which the latter were victorious in Mitchel Park in round three of this series.
They should travel with confidence after this.
Ballygalget, despite having lost to both Ballycran and Portaferry earlier in this round robin, were full value for their victory, even though they had to play most of the second half a man down after the dismissal of John Hughes.
'Galget boss Garrett Dynes didn't exactly complain about that decision, but he did express surprise, saying: "See the young guy that got sent off? There's not a bad bone in his body. The referee said there was interference with the helmet. Big call to come from the umpire. I didn't see it so I can't comment – but if he touched the faceguard, he touched the faceguard.
"But the boys dealt with it, re-grouped, we made a few positional changes strengthened our defence and we got over the line."
Besides their three goals, netted in the ninth (Toner), 21st (Doran), and 30th minutes (Fisher), helping 'Galget to a 3-5 to 0-10 half-time advantage, the home half-forwards proceeded to do great deeper defensive work in the second half, especially after the straight red card for young Hughes in the fourth minute after the re-start.
Ballycran never really exploited that numerical advantage, nor the let-off their goalkeeper Stephen Keith gave them by superbly saving a 40th minute penalty from Gareth 'Magic' Johnston. The big man did drill the subsequent '65' over the bar, though, one of nine placed balls he pointed.
His accuracy helped prevent Ballycran narrowing the gap to less than three points at any stage, as did the displays from the home half-backs.
Dynes praised the performances of two young lads either side of captain John McManus, saying: "Unbelievable – two young fellas, Ciaran [Watson] and Cathal [Coulter], put in dominant displays of high fielding – and Ballycran have an amazing half-forward line with 'Woodsy' and young [Liam] Savage, so to keep them quiet and also play your own game is testament to them.
"But nothing's won yet, it's old style Championship hurling and we're back to the grindstone against Portaferry next week. We still need a win. Nothing changes… We're in a semi-final, that's the way we're looking at it."
Ballycran manager Gary 'Gazza' Savage accepted the defeat, and their slice of fortune at the end:
"We never got going, Ballygalget deserved it more than us, that's what it boils down to.
"We're not surprised, there's always nothing in it between the three [Ards] teams… It's on the day, whoever wants it the most – and unfortunately the past two weeks Ballycran didn't want it as much."
Certainly the black and ambers struggled for scores, apart from Niall Breen and Woods they were reliant on the free-taking of Scott Nicholson.
"We decided to take the point at the end because they needed to beat us by six points," explained Savage.
"Thankfully enough Conor put it over – but it's a sad way to try to get into a final. Although there's many another decision didn't go our way," he added with a smile.
"We've got another chance, which probably we don't deserve after the last two matches, but I'll take it anyway."
Ballygalget: E Clarke; J Smyth, P McManus, M Toner; C Watson, J McManus (capt.), Cathal Coulter; J Hughes, J Doran (0-2); M Fisher (1-1), B Toner (1-0), A Doran (1-1); Caolan Coulter, G Johnston (0-9, 0-3 '65s', 0-6 frees), Cormac Coulter.
Substitutes: B Byers for Caolan Coulter (47); G Roddy for B Toner (inj. 56).
Ballycran: S Keith; M Hughes, S Ennis (capt.), D Hughes; B Nicholson (0-1), M Ennis, J Coyle; S Nicholson (0-7, 0-6 frees), P Savage; L Savage, C Woods (0-5, 0-1 free, 0-1 '65'), N Breen (0-3); C Egan, C McManus, S Martin (0-1).
Substitutes: G Hughes for Taylor (22); C Dorrian for Egan (49).
Referee: Colm McDonald.