Five points down at one stage of the first half and looking in serious trouble after conceding a couple of goals, the Ballymahon bravehearts showed a lot of character in battling their way back into contention and eventually scored a shock win to knock Dromard out of the senior championship.
Few among the attendance at the Slashers grounds, Michael Fay Park on Saturday evening last could have predicted that Ballymahon would get the better of the beaten county finalists for the past two years but they managed to do just that under the driving force of their obviously influential team manager Eamon Mahon from Shannonbridge in Co Offaly and can look forward to a quarter-final confrontation against Fr. Manning Gaels.
Dromard were stunned at the final whistle in making a totally unexpected early exit from the race for the Connolly Cup and must instead focus on the relegation play-offs in order to retain their senior status. Some very poor finishing cost them so dearly in the sensational setback against Ballymahon and the north Longford side were guilty of kicking eleven wides (six of which were frees) during the course of the game as compared to just four for the underdogs.
Make no mistake about it, this was a very disappointing display by Dromard in a fierce struggle against a spirited Ballymahon outfit who showed the greater hunger throughout this close encounter and the threat of automatic relegation spurred them on to a famous victory over one of the main contenders for the title.
Powerful centre-half-back Kevin Diffley was particularly impressive for the south Longford side who battled so hard for almost every ball while chief marksman Colm Flynn also played a leading role in the surprise success by scoring a total of eight points – seven of which came from frees.
Dromard appeared to be under no pressure when they established what appeared to be a commanding 2-2 to 0-3 lead as the first half progressed and it could have been even worse for Ballymahon as Diarmuid Masterson missed a clear-cut goal chance in the opening minute of the game.
Francis McGee fired a first-time shot into the back of the net for Dromard’s opening goal in the 9th minute and a second followed from Cian Mimnagh in the 18th minute as he weaved his way through to shoot past opposing keeper Dean Reilly.
The points were fired over by Jamsie Martin and McGee, who converted a free, while Colm Flynn accounted for the three Ballymahon scores (all frees). But the gap was gradually closed in a strong finish to the first half which yielded three points without reply – a brace of Flynn frees with wing back TJ McArdle also shooting over the bar to leave Dromard holding on to a slender 2-2 to 0-6 lead at the break.
With four minutes gone in the second half, Ballymahon were back on level terms thanks to another couple of frees converted by Colm Flynn but Dromard got in front again when Cian Mimnagh landed a cracking long range point in the 39th minute – their first score since the 18th minute.
Moments later, Dromard had a very lucky escape when their full-back Niall Vance cleared a goalbound shot from Thomas Lennon off the line but Ballymahon got the goal they badly needed in the 43rd minute when substitute Eddie Noonan created the opportunity for Alan Hudson to find the back of the net.
Now trailing by 1-8 to 2-3, Dromard recovered to level matters with a point apiece from substitute David Pettit (when a goal was on) and Ronan McEntire (a terrific long range strike in the 52nd minute) but continued to miss chances as five wides were registered in a dominant spell for Sean Hagan’s side.
A tremendous long range point from play by the accurate Colm Flynn in the 56th minute put Ballymahon back in front and that was the way it remained until the final whistle. Diarmuid Masterson had a late goal attempt for Dromard, only to be denied by a fine save from Dean Reilly, and Jamsie Martin then missed a free as time eventually ran out for the 2007 county champions.
BALLYMAHON: Dean Reilly; Gareth Murtagh, Ken Lovell, Ken Cooney; James Kenny, Kevin Diffley, TJ McArdle (0-1); Cian Cooney, Colm Flynn (0-8, seven frees); James Daly, Thomas Lowry, Thomas Lennon; Mark Connor, Alan Hudson (1-0), Jamsie Farrell.
Subs:- Eddie Noonan for T Lowry (22 mins); Kyle Fitzmaurice for M Connor (47 mins); Jamie Noonan for J Daly (50 mins).
DROMARD: Damien Sheridan; Cathal Conefrey, Niall Vance, Paul McGee; Peadar Faughnan, Peter Reynolds, Conor Duffy; Diarmuid Masterson, Cian Mimnagh (1-1); Padraic Martin, Francis McGee (1-1, point from free), Emmet Masterson; Jamsie Martin (0-1), Ronan McEntire (0-1), Declan Mimnagh.
Subs:- David Pettit (0-1) for E Masterson (half-time); John Sheridan for D Mimnagh (40 mins); Peter Masterson for P Martin (45 mins); James Mimnagh for F McGee (59 mins).
Referee: Frank Toher (Killoe Young Emmets).