A dramatic end to the RDFL Premier Division season saw Ballymoe FC crowned champions on Sunday last after Castlerea Celtic conceded two late goals in their title-defining clash with Ballinasloe Town at Castlerea. A win for Celtic would have secured the title, and a draw would have guaranteed them a play-off at the very least. A defeat, meanwhile, would open the door for Ballymoe.
All seemed to be going to plan for Castlerea when Ronan Curran put them 1-0 up on 56 minutes. Ballymoe, meanwhile, were already a goal ahead in their home tie with Moore United after a 28th minute strike from Maurice Connaughton. But the result of that contest would be immaterial as long as Castlerea remained in front against Ballinasloe.
Celtic had a string of opportunities to extend their lead in the second period. Curran, Dominic Blighe and Peter Farrell all came close before the home side were rocked by an 87th minute equaliser by Ballinasloe striker Liam Lynch. It came after a corner was cleared to the left edge of the 18-yard box, and the former Longford Town player hooked the ball back towards the top corner of the net.
Worse was to follow for Castlerea when another corner was sent into the danger zone two minutes later, and once again it was cleared to Lynch on the left edge of the box. This time the striker sent a low ball towards the back post, and Cormac Clogher scrambled it home from a couple of yards out.
It left the Celtic faithful stunned, and the focus quickly turned to Ballymoe where there were still a few minutes left to play after the final whistle sounded in Castlerea.
As word filtered through that Ballinasloe had done them a massive favour, the tension was ratcheted up during the dying minutes at Ballymoe.
An equaliser for Moore would have forced Ballymoe into a play-off with Ballinasloe to decide the title. So they needed to hang on to their one-goal lead to claim the club’s first ever Premier Division crown. It was a scenario that left Ballymoe joint-manager Seán Collins on tenterhooks.
“My father was at the Castlerea game and he told me to buy a lottery ticket because Ballinasloe were after scoring,” Seán laughed. “Two minutes later, the phone went off again and he said that Ballinasloe were after scoring a second. I couldn’t believe it.
“There were about ten minutes to go in our game. We had a job to calm the sideline down at that stage because word filtered through to the supporters and we were trying to focus on our own game.
“It had been very quiet when we heard Castlerea were 1-0 up. But when it went to 2-1, the place became deafening. The support went through the roof then. The players sensed something was happening but I don’t think they knew for certain whether it was a play-off or what,” the joint-manager explained.
Ballymoe goalkeeper Richard Thompson had come to his side’s rescue in the opening half when he tipped a dangerous effort onto the bar. They began to sit a bit deeper in the second half in order to try and protect the lead and hit their opponents on the break.
They restricted Moore to a few speculative efforts and created a couple of chances on the counter-attack. But the score remained at 1-0 and it made for a frenetic last few minutes. But Ballymoe managed to hold their nerve during the late pandemonium, and the Premier Division Cup arrived at its new home shortly after the final whistle.
“To win this means absolutely everything,” Collins said. “A lot of effort has been put in over a number of years. But it’s a title that is really well deserved by the lads for the effort that has been put in.
“There have been some very big days this year, such as when we picked up a point in Ballinasloe and recorded wins away from home against Castlerea and Moore. So it’s been a long season but the end result has been worth it all.
“When my team were coming up through the underage ranks, we won Premier Divisions at U-12, U-14 and U-16,” he recalled. “There have been a lot of very good underage teams in the past. But never before has a senior team in Ballymoe been the top team in Roscommon.
“We have reached many finals. Last year, we were in the Premier Division Cup final and the Roscommon Cup final. But the best we have done is reach finals in recent years.
“There was no bunting or flags up in the town because we never thought we’d do it. So it probably suited us, because any time there has been a thought that we might do something we haven’t done it. Now we have a chance of the treble,” the joint-manager joyfully declared.