It was always going to be a dramatic conclusion to what’s been a fascinating league title race.
Ballybofey United 3
Keadue Rovers 4
But nobody anticipated that it would literally go right down to the wire.
With these sides level at 3-3 as the game entered injury time and Cranford United winning against Letterbarrow Celtic – Cranford had one hand on the league trophy.
Then with almost the last action of the game at the Finn Valley Centre in Stranorlar, Keadue broke clear and snatched a winner almost four minutes into injury time to steal the title. In so doing, they condemned Cranford to runners-up spot in the division and Ballybofey into the third place, promotion/relegation spot.
It was an amazing finish to a season that will long be remembered by the leading sides in this division. In the end however, it was Keadue who were toasting a league title success that for so long in Sunday’s game looked beyond them.
Their victory was all the more impressive when you consider they had to come from 3-1 down to win. But two goals from the excellent Sean Yank Boyle got them back on level terms by half time and then Corey Gallagher popped up with the winner deep into injury time at the finish.
For Ballybofey it was a hugely disappointing result, especially after their impressive showing in the first half. They took the lead on eight minutes when Paul Finn’s inswinging free kick sneaked in at the back post. And while Keadue drew level from Sean Bonner’s penalty following a needless foul on Doalty Boyle inside the box, the home side were back in front within a minute when Conal Doherty forced the ball home from close range.
Finn was involved again for Ballybofey’s third. This time the veteran defender’s perfectly flighted free kick was headed in at the back post by John Gregg on 23 minutes.
Keadue however, were always a threat coming forward and Sean Yank Boyle headed their second with Adrian Hanlon the creator with a delightful cross from the left.
A minute before half time, the Rosses men were back on level terms when Boyle bravely chased down a poor clearance and bravely headed to the net as keeper Damien Bradley raced out to punch clear.
Ballybofey will be disappointed they didn’t create more in a second half in which the best of the chances fell to Keadue. Adrian Sweeney and Sean Yank Boyle went closest before Corey Gallagher’s late late winner. It came after Damien Bradley totally miscued a clearance as Keadue pumped the ball clear following a corner at the other end and the keeper could only watch as Gallagher raced through to guide the ball into the empty net.
Ballybofey Utd: Damien Bradley, Alan Patton, Gavin Doherty, Paul Finn, John Gregg, Packie Gallen (Oisin Merrett 72), Benny Kyle (Stephen Gregg 61), Michael Lynch, Darragh Redmond (Darragh Crossan 54), Bernard McMenamin, Conor Doherty.
Keadue Rovers: Chris McGlynn, Charles Gillespie, James Boyle, Adrian Sweeney, Raymond Sweeney, Eoin Redmond, Corey Gallagher, Sean Bonner, Doalty Boyle, Sean Yank Boyle, Adrian Hanlon.
Referee: Marty McGarrigle.
Keadue Rovers joint manager, Derek Bonner, like so many involved in Sunday’s win, has experienced the good times and the bad times with the club. He said the league victory was therefore all the more special.
“It’s great for the lads because the attitude has been brilliant this year,” he said.
“We’ve got a great commitment and really, we’ve got to say thanks to the GAA club in Dungloe as well. We need the GAA players and we had Sean Yank Boyle today as well who plays with Naomh Mhuire.”
Bonner also admitted that for long periods of the first half, he was fearing the worst.
“To be honest, at 3-1 down I’d have probably taken a draw. That would have been good enough to get us promoted, but at that stage, it didn’t look good.
“We got off to a bad start. The goals we gave away were poor. We conceded a few free kicks out on our left and they got two of their goals from there. They’re a big, strong, physical team and we knew they would be dangerous from free kicks – but they were bad goals to concede.
“But we got ourselves back in the game and at half time, we just said we’d keep going and keep working hard. Thankfully it worked out well in the end.”
On a difficult surface, it wasn’t easy to play quality football and at times the game got a little scrappy. And as the game got scrappy, the odd poor challenge began to creep into the game. But match referee Marty McGarrigle, was quick to penalise any offenders and any persisting fouling prompted him to get the yellow card out.
He had a good game in charge and made the right call in awarding Keadue their first half penalty after Doalty Boyle was pushed in the box by Packie Gallen.
Man of the match
Ballybofey had good performers in defenders Gavin Doherty and John Gregg while Paul Finn also had a steady game at the back. Up front, Conor Doherty was their main threat.
Keadue’s experienced players also stood out with the Sweeneys, Raymond and Adrian impressive at the back and Adrian Hanlon and Doalty Boyle also very good.
The man of the match was Sean Yank Boyle who has been in fine goalscoring form this season. He scored two brilliant headers to get Keadue back on level terms before half time and his overall contribution was excellent.
The winning goal which came as the game reached the fifth minute of injury time. Ballybofey knew that nothing less than a win would be good enough for automatic promotion so they pushed almost everyone up for a corner deep into injury time.
So once Keadue cleared their lines, Damien Bradley was the only man back and as he attempted to return the ball first time, the keeper miskicked his delivery and Corey Gallagher took full advantage to race through and steer the ball into the empty net.