BY DENIS HURLEY
WHEREAS the meeting of Ballincollig and Carbery Rangers in the 2014 final was a unique occasion as both sides were chasing a first SFC title, this time round the dynamic is different.
However, it’s the kind of situation where either outcome allows us to be wise after the event – Ballincollig triumph again and the experience of two years ago was invaluable; Ross get over the line and it was driven by the motivation to atone for the previous loss. Ballincollig centre-forward Patrick Kelly certainly won’t be dwelling on the minutiae.
‘Before Dublin-Mayo, it was the same story,’ he says, ‘they were saying that Mayo had to be hungrier and it had to count for something, Dublin go and win it and then it’s their experience that won it, you don’t know until afterwards.
‘They’re two evenly matched teams, they were six or seven up on us in the final two years ago, they’ve consistently been in semi-finals, they’re top of the league and that’s a great indication of their consistency and their quality.
‘They’re a better team than they were two years ago, judging by their personnel alone. It’s easy to be wise in hindsight but I’d be surprised if there were more than two or three points in it either way.’
Having lost to Bishopstown in their opener, Ballincollig overcame Beara and then Clyda Rovers, but their campaign almost came to ground in Round 4, as a replay was required to get over the challenge of CIT.
Though far from their best, the mid-Cork side trailed by three points in the closing stages before managing to secure the draw. The kind of game that previous Ballincollig sides might have left behind them?
‘It’s probably a fair enough comment,’ Kelly says.
‘Certainly, in previous years, we would have been far more anxious because we wouldn’t have been as organised or as settled or as experienced.
‘The last score we got, CIT had brought men back and we worked it for a couple of minutes, our younger lads worked the ball through and Seán got a huge score.
‘It was one of those ones that, looking back, we were haunted to squeeze out of. ‘We got caught with two goals and that rattled us, we were very poor that night. We were three down with ten to go in tough conditions, playing poorly, and we were very lucky to get a draw.’
After that, the challenge of Castlehaven loomed in the quarter-finals. A year ago, the Haven were successful at the same stage but this was completely different, with the final score 3-15 to 0-7 in Collig’s favour.
‘It’s fairly obvious, but the longer we have together, the better we get,’ Kelly says.
‘We have lads with the Cork seniors, Cork U21s, we have hurlers, there are different things, but the week of the Haven game, we still had 20 lads at training even though the hurlers played the week before.
‘The standard was good, the focus was good, the Haven were missing probably four key players as well. At the start of the second half, we kicked on – they had a couple of goal chances in the first half that ‘Scotty’ (David Lordan) saved, if they had gone in, it would have been a different story.
‘It was one of those rare days where you get to enjoy the second half, beating a team of the class of Castlehaven was pretty sweet.’
Things were not as free-flowing in the semi-final against Nemo Rangers, but that didn’t make victory any less satisfying. Having conceded 1-3 before getting off the mark themselves, again a dogged resistance was shown by Ballincollig.
Again though, as much as anything, the mental strength of the team was as important as the physical, Kelly believes.
‘I was never really panicky in the first half, we were against a strong wind and they were playing quite defensively,’ he says.
‘If they had got that penalty shout, that would have put them eight or nine up, then it would have been a different story but the goal by Seán (Kiely) brought it back to three points and then we went in only down by two at half-time, maybe deserving to in five or six down.
‘Small things like that went our way, I suppose a lot of it is mental strength and experience.
‘It’s often said that teams playing Nemo or the Haven are nearly beaten beforehand. We certainly felt that we had a good team and a good panel and that we could match them pound for pound, the big thing for us was being able to hold their forwards and then seeing if our forwards could get enough scores.
‘It was a lowish-scoring match, which probably suited us, but we never felt as if they were a lot better than us.’