Ballyhaise storm into last four of Ulster Club IFC

Ulster Club Intermediate Football Championship quarter-final

Ballyhaise 4-15

Na Dúnaibh 0-11

Paul Fitzpatrick at Kingspan Breffni

Ballyhaise delivered a superb performance as they marched into the last four of the Ulster Club IFC with this emphatic win over Na Dúnaibh.

Usually there is an element of the unknown when venturing into Ulster but Na Dúnaibh, from the picturesque village of Downings on the Atlantic coast, were something of a known quantity for Cavan football followers given that Denn – whom Ballyhaise defeated in the county final – played and beat them in the 2021 Ulster Junior Club final.

In the meantime, the Donegal men had secured promotion to Division 1 – completing a rags to riches rise from Division 4 – and won the Intermediate Championship, defeating Malin by five points in the final.

Ballyhaise, who have been solid in Division 1 of the league in recent years and were in the last three Intermediate finals in Cavan, were regarded as one of the stronger sides to represent Cavan in this competition in recent years.

The gulf between the sides was very apparent in the first half. The game started at a frantic pace and Na Dúnaibh scored two of the first three points but Ballyhaise, routing their opponents’ kick-out, would out-score them by 3-8 to 0-3 in the remainder of the half – and even had the luxury of withdrawing Padraig Moore as a precaution against injury in the 25th minute.

By then, Moore had bagged two goals but it was far from a one-man show. Ballyhaise players were winning their individual battles all over the pitch, with Martin Conaty at the heart of everything good. And when Na Dúnaibh belatedly detailed a man marker on Conaty, it seemed to unsettle their best-laid plans – although, to be fair, the decimation of their kick-out had already done that.

By the end of the half, they were disorganised and Ballyhaise looked like scoring every time they attacked – which was often.

Na Dúnaibh opened the scoring with a mark from Patrick McElwee which was quickly cancelled out by a fisted point from David Brady, situated mainly close to goal.

McElwee added another from play but Ballyhaise soon found their feet. Michael Brady played a short 45 to Aaron Watson, took the return and boomed over a point from 45 metres; for the next, Eoin Clarke accelerated into a gap and scored from similar range.

Already, the Downings men were in trouble on their kick-out. Conaty pinched one and David Brady pointed and when the goalkeeper spilled Conaty’s shot, Adam Heaslip nipped in and found the net to make it 1-4 to 0-2 on eight minutes.

A 40-metre point from Conaty and a Michael Brady free stretched the lead. Ballyhaise were playing great football, kicking long often, and from one such delivery, Darren Reilly did well to find Moore, who lashed home from 12 metres.

Moore showed his pace to break free and fist over another and although Lorcan Connor, centre-forward on the Donegal minor side who reached the 2014 All-Ireland final, sent over a good point, a long ball from Colin McKiernan to Moore saw the team captain bury his second goal and effectively end the match as a contest at 3-8 to 0-4.

Ballyhaise were denied a fourth major before the break when Na Dúnaibh scrambled to clear off the line; Donegal senior panellist Johnny McGroddy converted a free but the Cavan champions had the final say of the half when Michael Brady sent over a 45 to leave 13 between them at the midway point.

The tempo dipped considerably in the second half. Ballyhaise extended their lead with points from Kevin Tierney (mark) and Cormac Clarke and while Na Dúnaibh competed more strongly, the would-be winners were never threatened.

McElwee registered two frees as both sides began to spurn chances. Tierney and David Brady both raised white flags in the closing stages, with Oisin Boyce and Johnny McGroddy on the mark for the visitors.

Michael Brady pointed twice (one free) on the run-in and when his brother David was pushed when through, Tierney tucked away the resulting penalty.

Keelan McGroddy had the final say with a fine individual effort but it was all elementary at that stage as Damien Keaney’s charges won pulling up to advance to the Ulster semi-final, where they will meet Glenullin from Derry.

Ballyhaise: Gary O’Rourke, Aaron Watson, Fiachra McGoldrick, Eoin Clarke (0-1), Adam Heaslip (1-0), Evan Crowe, Darren Reilly, David Brady (0-4), Aodhagan Watters, Colin McKiernan, Padraig Moore (2-1), Cormac Clarke (0-1), Martin Conaty (0-1), Brían O’Rourke, Michael Brady (0-5, 1f, 45)

Subs: Kevin Tierney (1-2, 1m, 1-0 pen) for P Moore, Marcus Duffy for D Reilly (ht), Cormac Callaghan for A Watson (37), Killian Brady for C Clarke (43), Luke Gilmartin for C McKiernan (50)

Na Dúnaibh: Aaron McClafferty, Hugo David, Ben McNutt, Padraig MacGinty, Keelan McGroddy (0-1), Ronan Gallagher, Dean McBride, Oisin Boyce (0-1), Shane Boyce, Allen Pasoma, Kevin Doherty, Conor Boyce, Johnny McGroddy (0-3, 2f), Lorcan Connor (0-1), Patrick McElwee (0-4, 2f, 1m)

Subs: Aodh McBride for A McClafferty (18), Ethan Cullen for S Boyce, Callum Cullen for D McBride (both ht), James Lee McBride for C Boyce (54)

Ref: Diarmuid Boylan (Monaghan)