Amid the club’s jubilation on the O’Moore Park turf at the final whistle, there was a heartbroken O’Mahoney whose emotions had jumped from fearing he may have cost his team a March 17 date in Croke Park to the cold realisation he won’t have a playing role on the club’s biggest day.
Keaney, sporting a sizeable gash under his right eye, too contemplated doom when he kicked a relatively straightforward free short late in normal time: I was thinking I’ll have to think about this for the rest of the year now”.
But the defeat-defying feats of his team-mates in injury-time where they kicked three points to Clonmel’s one saved his blushes and it was Keaney with a brace of points in the second half of extra-time that secured a win that had earlier looked most unlikely.
The complexion of the game had looked so different when O’Mahoney was sent off for a high tackle on Jason Lonergan in the 53rd minute. Three points down, Ballyboden’s race appeared run only for them to score four of the next five points.
“Obviously Declan is a huge leader of this team, he’ll be a massive loss for us. But what can you do? It’s like every other thing that happened this year, this team just keeps rolling on, whether you’re with us or you’re not. It doesn’t matter who’s playing, we’re going on and… we’re going to win this.”
Ballyboden manager Andy McEntee felt the writing was on the wall before those injury-time scores from Ryan Basquel, Andrew Kerin (free) and captain Darragh Nelson’s equaliser. “You’d have to say with what, four, five minutes to go, a man down, three points down, having missed as many chances as we did, you’d go, ‘okay, it’s not going to be our day’.
“But we talked a lot all year about character and never giving up and they didn’t give up.
The psychological advantage was with Ballyboden going into extra-time and increased in the opening minutes of the first additional 10-minute period when Michael Quinlivan was black carded and Kevin Fahey had to make way because of injury. They failed to score for the remainder of the game as Ballyboden made full use of their second wind, leading 0-12 to 0-10 at half-time and tagging on another three points thereafter.
Commercials manager Charlie McGeever said the loss of Quinlivan and Fahey was too much to take: “After two minutes of extra-time, our top two players were gone and that was us behind the black ball. To lose Kevin Fahey and Michael almost in the same movement left us high and dry because, as good as the lads are, when you’re working off a club set-up it’s very difficult to replace your top players.” Fahey had earlier been instrumental in giving Clonmel such a strong foothold. Along with the Kennedys, Seamus and Jack, he had helped turn the middle third sector in their favour, taking the sting out of Paul Durcan’s kick-outs. Clonmel led 0-5 to 0-4 at half-time having strung together three points without reply and they repeated the trick in as many minutes to lead by three after 45 minutes. It was a commanding and deserving lead they retained until Ballyboden’s late rescue when Macauley’s influence became more apparent.
Asked if he shares Keaney’s belief that Ballyboden’s run has a sense of destiny attached to it, McEntee replied: “I think people maybe went a little bit overboard with the Portlaoise game. I think if people looked at the game again, they’d realise we had maybe five goal chances. That game could have been out of sight and we had another one even after the free. Obviously, it could have gone either way, the Clontarf (Dublin semi-final) game could have gone either way and today definitely could have gone the other way
“But once we got going, you know, we never really got at them but they didn’t really let us get at them.
“Their energy levels were massive. I thought they hunted in packs and they swarmed around us. How many times did Conal Keaney get a ball and there’s three or four fellas on top of him? You got to give them a lot of credit.”
A Kerin (0-7, 5 frees); C Keaney (0-4, 3 frees); S Molony, C Basquel, D Nelson, R Basquel (0-1 each).
I Barnes (0-3, 2 frees); J Kennedy, M Quinlivan (1 free), J Lonergan (0-2 each); K Harney (0-1).
P Durcan; B Dwan, S Hiney, S Clayton; R McDaid, D Nelson, A Waters; MD Macauley, D O’Mahoney; D Davey, C Basquel, D O’Reilly; C Keaney, S Molony, A Kerin.
R Basquel for D Davey (34); S O’Connor for D O’Reilly (35); S Durkin for S Clayton (55); S Gibbons for S Molony (56); D McCabe for S Gibbons (e-t h-t); S Lambert for S Molony (77).
J McDonald; J Peters, F Condon, D Lynch; D Madigan, K Harney; J Kennedy, S Kennedy; A Matassa, J Lonergan, I Fahey; I Barnes, M Quinlivan, L Moore.
P White for D Madigan (49); P Looram for I Barnes (56); S Taylor for F Condon (black, 60+2); N Kelly for M Quinlivan (black, 61); S Taylor for K Fahey (inj 62); S Flynn for P Looran (e-t h-t).
B Cassidy (Derry)