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    SportBALLYNAGROSS TRIUMPH

    BALLYNAGROSS TRIUMPH

    Bobby Dalzell Cup final Ballynagross 1 Strangford 1 (Ballynagross win 5-4 on pens) CALLUM and James Mahoney were the headline makers in Friday’s Bobby Dalzell Cup final as both brothers scored in a tight game that went to extra time before Ballynagross eventually overcame Strangford on penalties.

    Russell Swail’s Strangford side started the better of the two teams and produced the first shot of the game from a free kick on eight minutes, with Callum Shields’ strike easily saved by Ballynagross keeper Cathail Arnold. Ballynagross thought they had taken the lead against the run of play just two minutes later when Shea McComiskey’s skewed shot-come-cross was turned in by Declan Dowie, but the assistant had his flag up long before the ball hit the back of the net. Ballynagross were now starting to get to grips with the final and were coming into the game, with forward Dowie causing problems with his hold-up play. In the 21st minute, Dowie found some space down Strangford’s lefthand side and produced a great ball in, that was met on the volley by an unmarked Callum Mahoney, but his effort went just wide. It was the best chance of the game so far and Ballynagross now looked in the ascendancy. In the 25th minute, it was Strangford’s turn to have a goal ruled out for offside, with Conal Fitzsimmons’ finish from a John Fitzsimons pass falling foul of the assistant’s flag.

    This seemed to galvanise Strangford and they began to take a grip of the game again, with Callum Shields producing some neat passes in midfield and James Mahoney causing problems with his pace and skill on the wing. The men from Strangford were producing some brilliant passages of play at times in this game, and on 29 minutes a well-worked move from Swail’s team started by John Fitzsimons at the back ended with a shot that sailed wide from Conal Fitzsimons. As the final edged towards half time, the game began to heat up, with some strong tackles coming in from both sides and neither willing to give an inch. Phillip Campbell’s Ballynagross side, who had looked dangerous on the counter attack at times, had another superb chance to go in front on 43 minutes. Shea McComiskey found some space on the wing and swung a great ball in towards Mahoney, who will feel he should have done better with his header. Just a minute later and Ballynagross nearly scored again. The ball was cleared from a free kick and Jack Fitzsimons collected the ball near the touch line before shooting from what seemed like an impossible angle. The ball ended up swinging just wide of veteran Strangford keeper Gregory Holland’s post, with the wind at Meadowvale on the day possibly playing a part. The referee blew for half time shortly after, much to the dismay of Ballynagross, who were on the attack. The first ten minutes of the second half were characterised by long balls into the penalty area, with both sides defending their boxes well. On 60 minutes the deadlock was finally broken.

    A Ballynagross free kick was only partially cleared by the Strangford defence and when the ball was played back into the box and headed across the face of goal, Callum Mahoney was there to nod his team into the lead and spark jubilant scenes on the bench. Remarkably, just two minutes later, the other Mahoney, Callum’s brother James, burst Ballynagross’s bubble with an equaliser for Strangford. Similar to the Ballynagross goal, the ball was only partially cleared from a free kick and when the ball was put back into the box, the Strangford number ten found himself with space and time in the box to take a touch and chip the ball over Arnold. It was a goal that Philip Campbell would have been desperately disappointed to concede so soon after scoring but one that delighted Russell Swail, his coaching staff and the Strangford fans behind the goal. The game was now end to end and James Mahoney could have doubled his goal tally ten minutes later when a great ball was slipped through to him and he was left one on one with Arnold, but his first touch was too heavy and the Ballynagross keeper was able to collect the ball. After ten minutes of all out attacking football from both sides, without the creation of any clearcut chances, the game began to get scrappy going into the last ten minutes as the realisation of what was on the line hit both sides. Callum Mahoney looked to score his second goal of the day on 85 minutes when the ball dropped to him on the edge of the box from a cleared cross, but his volley dropped into the arms of Holland in the Strangford goal.

    Just when it looked like the game was petering out and both sides had settled for extra time, Callum Shields produced a brilliant cross into the box after Strangford’s initial corner was cleared. Shields’ ball found the head of Conal Fitzsimmons who headed wide in what was the last chance of the game before the referee blew his full-time whistle. Ballynagross started the first half of extra time strongly, winning a free kick that was crossed in by Jack Fitzsimons. The ball was cleared but only to John Shields on the edge of the box, who shot just wide of the goal. Both Strangford coach Swail and Ballynagross gaffer Campbell brought on substitutes as they looked to freshen things up and replace tired legs. One of those substitutes, Eoin King, had a superb chance to put Strangford in front on the stroke of half-time in extra time. Conall Magee crossed in from the lefthand side, with the ball evading everyone before falling to King at the back post, but his low, drilled effort went inches wide of the post. As the second half of extra time kicked off, both sides knew just how tight a game this final was and the tension was evident in some of the desperate tackles that were going in. More great wing play from Strangford winger Mahoney resulted in yet another cross being thrown into the penalty area, with the ball falling to Jordan Doran, who fired another low effort just wide for the men in claret and blue.

    Ballynagross were really holding on now as Strangford piled the pressure on. As the game entered the final minutes of extra time Strangford won a corner. Stefan McGrattan’s ball in met the head of Doran, whose header was well saved by Arnold, who then had to react quickly low down to save Conall Magee’s strike from the rebound. Strangford won another corner from the resulting scramble and Arnold was forced into one more piece of brilliance, tipping over substitute King’s header. Seconds later, Ballynagross had a brilliant opportunity on the counter attack, but the wrong pass led to a Strangford interception and that proved to be the final opportunity of the game as the referee blew his whistle to end the game. It was all down to the lottery of the penalty shootout and the nerves on the faces of the players on both sides were clear for all to see. Both teams converted their first four penalties, with McFall, Doran, Watterson and Mahoney converting for Strangford and Dowie, Marron, McComiskey and Burns scoring for Ballynagross. Ballynagross keeper Arnold got a big hand to Watterson’s penalty and he’ll feel he should have saved it. It was a sign of things to come though, as he plunged down low to save King’s penalty and give Ballynagross the opportunity to win the game. It was left to 21-year-old Aodhan Harney, who was brought on a substitute in extra time, to win the trophy for Ballynagross. He stepped up and cooly slotted home to secure a historic first ever Bobby Dalzell triumph for the local club. It was a heart-breaking loss for Strangford, who will now need to bounce back ahead of their Harry Clarke semi-final with Valley Colts on March 31, but for Ballynagross and their manager, players and fans, it was pure elation.

     

     

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