MAIN MAN Hat-trick hero Jack O’Connor wrote his name in club folklore with his goalscoring exploits.
Reilly Doyle 5
Kiltimagh/Knock United 3
O’Connor 60 (pen), 83, 89
It was by far the best Super League game of the season.
A second-half Jack O’Connor hat-trick – against the breeze and against all odds – was enough to confirm Kiltimagh/Knock United (KKU) as a serious force in Mayo football, and opened the title race.
When Ben Edeh set up Nathan Reilly-Doyle to put Ballyheane ahead after just five minutes, this game seemed to be heading down a very familiar path. It usually takes fifteen minutes for champions to measure up to their opponents on any given day; on Sunday, it looked like they discovered KKU a little earlier.
But O’Connor and his teammates had other ideas.
Reilly-Doyle took his aim well. He took possession at the edge of the box and placed his low shot beyond the reach of Niall Walshe. It was Ballyheane’s first attack.
O’Connor had a few chances to equalize before the break. He hit one wide and another over the top. He headed in Gallagher’s cross in the 34th minute when he really should have equalised. Jack Mullarkey also had a chance, and Tommie Scahill in the Ballyheane goal stopped James McGrath’s header at his right post.
At the other end, Edeh, Reilly Doyle and Rory Morris threatened, but Brendan Walshe and Dan Duffy in the heart of the KKU defense held firm.
The visitors handed it to the champions after the break. Despite a strong breeze, they took control of the game with Ronan Mallee and James McGrath outstanding in the middle.
Ballyheane didn’t create as many clean chances as usual, but Jack Tuffy should have scored from Edeh’s cross after he came forward for a free-kick.
On the hour mark, the normally flawless Darragh Ludden knocked Caulfield down in the box and O’Connor, the former Galway United and Sligo Rovers man, sent Scahill the wrong way to level him. Minutes later, Ballyheane’s great warrior Seán Kilcoyne had to leave the field with a head injury.
Brian Gallagher found space for KKU on the wing but his cross was cleared and Ballyheane countered. It looked like Morris would restore Ballyheane’s lead but Walshe, in the visitors’ goal, had the measure of the young striker’s shot.
And then, in the 83rd minute, the visitors’ hard work paid off and O’Connor tapped Darragh Hanlon’s pass to put KKU in front. It was no more than they deserved.
O’Connor’s third was a masterpiece. Trailing 2-1, Ballyheane still had a point to play. They pushed. Duffy got rid of it. He ran into O’Connor inside the circle. Any other player would have walked to the corner flag to cut time. O’Connor looked up, saw Scahill on the edge of his penalty area and fired. It was not a speculative explosion.
It was an accurate shot, judging by the wind, the height of the keeper and the location of the goal. When the ball passed over Scahill, everyone knew he would dive perfectly under the crossbar, in the middle of the goal, without bouncing. At 3-1, it was game over.
KKU fully valued their victory. The played with enormous skill and passion.
They have great players and they hit form at a good time in the season. Their trainer, Paul Byrne’s influence can be seen all over the park. They play football, just like Ballyheane. The approximately 200 spectators will rarely see such a good match in the Mayo League. It was the real deal. Ballyheane was good on Sunday, but not good enough. O’Connor, with his hat trick, was obviously Mayo News’ man of the match.
But Duffy, Brendan Walshe, McGrath or Mallee could have been too. Edeh, Reilly-Doyle and Morris tried hard for Ballyheane, but their efforts weren’t enough.
T Scahill, D Purcell, C Redmond, J Tuffy, D Ludden, S Kilcoyne, M Fahey, D Fadden, R Morris, N Reilly-Doyle, B Edeh.
Subs used: E Doyle, D Moran, L Morris, S Staunton, S Thomas, L Meldrum.
Kiltimagh Knock United
N Walshe, E Eaton, D Duffy, B Walshe, R Mallee, J McGrath, S Collins, J Mullarkey, J O’Connor, C Caulfield, B Gallagher.
Subs used: L Jordan, E Joyce, D Hanlon, M Leadbetter, D Webb, I Carty, D Smith.
Referee: D McGrath