Austin Stacks were the manifestly superior team once they had reeled in Ballincollig’s early six- point advantage, but their inefficiency in snuffing out the visitors in the closing stages made for a fraught afternoon in their hometown of Tralee.
It took the 20 minutes of extra-time to convince Stacks that Ballincollig were all punched out and that the Tralee side had the artillery to shoot for home. But by that stage, the game had taken on such a shapeless feel no-one was sure about anything any more.
Amid a flurry of black cards, messed-up substitutions, scores disallowed because of messed-up substitutions, and players going down with cramp, the finale cried out for someone to bring a degree of order and direction to the proceedings. Ultimately, Stacks had more players capable of working the ball into advanced spaces on the pitch, and capitalising on those opportunities.
Shane O’Callaghan assumed the target man role for the Tralee side once Kieran Donaghy drifted out the field, and O’Callaghan’s duel with Ballincollig’s Noel Galvin was a highlight of the afternoon.
If only Ballincollig had someone of similar nous and movement in their inside forward line. The Cork champions were crying out for a bit of presence close to the Stacks goal in the second half, especially with Stacks best man marker Ronan Shanahan off injured just after the interval.
Credit here though must also go to Donaghy who played as a shield in front of his defence for the final 10 minutes. It was the 40th minute before the Tralee men got their noses in front (0-9 to 1-5) and once ahead, Stacks played with a conservatism determined to keep them there.
Wing-back Denis McElligott edged them two clear in the 47th minute and thereafter Stephen Stack’s side essentially shut up shop, playing keep ball across the midfield, either oblivious or disinterested in the movement of forwards like O’Callaghan and David Mannix.
Of course, a delighted Stephen Stack didn’t see it like that afterwards. In fact he complimented his players before extra-time on their keep-ball prowess, but there was a real sense of poetic justice in the second minute of injury time when John Miskella burst forward from defence and landed a glorious equalising point from almost 50m to bring the semi-final to extra-time.
Having already surged back from that early deficit, did Stacks have the stomach to go out and win it again in extra-time? To their credit, they certainly did, their grittiness a reflection of their manager’s own stickability as a defender in his time.
Three Stacks points in the first period of extra-time from sub Darragh Long (free), defender Pa McCarthy and David Mannix rendered one ‘score’ disallowed for 16 men on the field virtually irrelevant. The gap widened to four when Kieran Donaghy fisted over a point to make it 0-14 to 1-7, a yawning chasm at that stage.
It was possibly the first ball Donaghy had won clean inside all day, with Steve O’Donoghue policing him effectively in the early exchanges — so much so in fact, that next year’s Kerry captain was redeployed to midfield. The Rock were chasing the game from the get-go with Ballincollig’s Cian Kiely and John Kelly pointing either side of the game’s only goal after seven minutes — Cian Dorgan’s 45 finding its way to a grateful Pa Kelly who found the net.
Stacks were properly rattled in the first quarter. Ballincollig were first to everything and emerging with all the 50-50’s — underlined when George Durant won a free against the odds for Dorgan to make it 1-4 to 0-1 after 18 minutes.
Then came the game’s key passage: Stacks got a foothold with Donaghy at midfield and, ironically, his departure from the full-forward line meant more precision ball going into O’Callaghan and Mannix. They turned lemons into lemonade. Five points on the spin followed in the 10 minutes before half-time, Mannix claiming two and man of the match O’Callaghan another.
The problem at this juncture for Ballincollig was twofold — firstly, Sean Kiely was tied up trying to keep tabs on Donaghy and thus had little influence going forward. Of course, that meant that go- forward ball was more and more infrequent, casting the likes of Paddy Kelly to the margins of the game. Ballincollig sent for Ian Coughlan, a proper target man, and more than once he was isolated one-on-one inside if there was the will and the wand to find him. But the visitors’ attacking forays slowed to a trickle. A pair of Shane Carroll points for Stacks should have been the trigger to press home their obvious advantage, but Stacks haven’t been at the business end of a provincial campaign for a long time, and their hesitancy showed. With 10 minutes left they were two-points ahead but when Sean Kiely halved that, all the Tralee lads wanted was the finishing post.
Eventually they got there in extra-time, but even in the second period, Ballincollig summoned the will to point twice through the indefatigable Miskella (his third) and a Cian Dorgan 45 to make it a one-score game.
S Carroll (frees), D Mannix (0-3 each); D Long (0-2, frees), G Horan (0- 2), P McCarthy (0-2), D McElligott, S. O’Callaghan, K Donaghy (0-1 each).
J. Miskella, C Dorgan (2 frees), (0-3 each); P. Kelly (1-0), C Kiely, S Kiely, J. Kelly (0-1 each).
F Mangan for Collins (half time); J Dennis for R Shanahan (inj, 32); D. Long for Carroll (51); C. O’Connell for Bohan(56); W Kirby for Horan (59); G Horan for McElligott (ET); M Collins for Mannix (68); Bohan for McNamara (72) Black card: M Collins (no sub permitted)
P O’Neill for O’Sullivan (inj, 28); C Moore for Prendergast (half-time); S Coughlan for N Allen (47); D Kerstein for JP Murphy (56); JP Murphy for O’Neill (ET).
R Hickey (Clare)
D O’Brien; D. McElligott, R. Shanahan, B. Shanahan (c); C. Jordan, F. McNamara, P. McCarthy; W. Guthrie, G. Horan; M Collins, S Carroll, D. Bohan; D. Mannix, K. Donaghy, S. O’Callaghan.
D Lordan; N Galvin, S O’Donoghue, L Prendergast; JP Murphy, L Jennings, C. Kiely; S Kiely, C. O’Sullivan; N Allen, P Kelly, G Durant; J Kelly, C. Dorgan, J. Miskella.