Tooreen proved too strong for Ballina Stephenites in the Mayo Junior Hurling Final.
Tooreen proved too strong for Ballina Stephenites in the Mayo Junior Hurling Final. 

Comeback club Stephenites fall to Tooreen at final hurdle

Mayo GAA Junior Hurling Championship Final (Ciaran Byrne Memorial Cup)


It was a weekend of dominance for the Tooreen Hurling Club as the Tooreen B panel fought off a stiff Ballina Stephenites challenge to claim the inaugural Mayo GAA Junior Hurling Championship Ciaran Byrne Memorial Cup. Having been dormant from the adult hurling scene over the past 10 years, and only playing their first competitive match back in June 2021, the Stephenites panel had a lot to be proud of in what was an outstandingly well contested final.

Fresh from their win against Athleague the previous day, the Tooreen panel of fringe players knew they had to perform well to get a look in for next weeks game in Ruislip against Robert Emmett’s, but they didn’t have it all their own way during this hour of determined hurling.

An early week toss for home venue brought the game to Adrian Freeman Park, and the pitch was in pristine condition as usual given the time of year. The Stephenites showed all the nerves of rookies in a county final in the opening quarter of the game, and it took until the 14th minute of the game to record their first score – a long range free – courtesy of Alan Ferguson. By this stage however, the more composed Tooreen side had four points on the board from Sean Freyne (f), Shane Crinnegan, Stephen Leneghan and Brian Morley. This four point head start given up by the North Mayo charges turned out to be their downfall on the day – as they never could close the margin for the rest of the game. Just before the first water break, Nicky Carolan recorded Ballina’s first score from play to leave it 0-4 to 0-2 at the quarter mark.

For the second quarter however, it was all Ballina as they found their groove in the game. The Ballina rear guard tightened its belt, while the attack drove at the Tooreen defence. The result of which was four scorable frees which Ballina freetaker David Barrett duly obliged in the 20th , 25th, 29th and 32nd minute. However, in the middle of this quartet, Ballina’s momentum was rocked when Tooreen’s Sean Frayne netted from close range after he pulled on a dropping ball in around the square. The introduction of Derek McDonnell at the edge of the square for Ballina caused some consternation, but two close range goal-bound shots were somehow kept out by the Tooreen defence. As the half time whistle sounded, the score stood at 1-4 to 0-6 in favour of the home side.

The second half began in a blue force as Oisin Greally – now playing out around midfield – pointed with style. This was closely followed by another Sean Frayne pointed free, before David Barrett converted his fifth at the other end. Conal Hession converted another point for Tooreen in the 43rd minute, before another sucker blow for Ballina came shortly after. The free-running Oisin Greally was again the threat as he weaved in from the side line. His low goal-bound shot crept inside the Ballina net, and after some deliberation between referee Mike Herr and his umpires – the green flag was raised. Another Tooreen point followed from Stephen Leneghan, and this put seven points between the side and it looked as if Ballina would throw in the towel. But – in the next play of the game – Ballina clawed their way back as Kevin Healy goaled from close range after some astute handling from the aforementioned McDonnell on the edge of the square.

So it was game on for the final quarter. With tiring bodies, it was both sets of defences who really got on top – none more so than the Ballina rear guard led by the mercurial Anthony Healy. Healy turned in an hours hurling which belied his years, thwarting many a Tooreen attack in the closing stages. The remaining scores of the game came from points from David Harrison and Stephen Leneghan (Tooreen) while former Tooreen player Darren Murray got in the scoresheet late on for Ballina with a close in free.

It might not have been Ballina’s day, but it cannot be forgotten the amazing journey the Moysiders have come on and the big achievement just to make it to the final after many years absent from the scene. Manager Gary Barrett will have mixed emotions after the game – delight at getting so far in their first year, but sorrow at not being able to clear the last hurdle. No doubt Ballina will bounce back again next year after this breakthrough year – and will grow into an even stronger hurling force similar to what made them Mayo GAA Senior Hurling Champions back in 2007.

It was a busy but productive weekend for Tooreen manager Ray Larkin and his side after coming off the great win against Athleague for his Senior charges the previous day. After the game, Tooreen captain David Harrison received the Ciaran Byrne Memorial Cup and in an emotional speech, lent his and his sides condolences to the Kelly family in Kilkelly, on the passing of their little angel Miyah recently.

TOOREEN: Davog Freyne; Jack Trench, Niall Robinson, Oisin Greally (1-1); Darragh Freeman, Finian Burke, Padraig Mooney; Conor English, David Harrison (0-1); Conal Hession (0-1), Stephen Leneghan (0-3,1f), Brian Morley (0-1); Sean Frayne (1-2,2f), Shane Morley, Shane Crinnegan (0-1). Subs: Conor Henry, Daniel Huane, Brian Guthrie.

BALLINA: Kevin Duffy; Niall Hurley, Ronan Molloy, Anthony Healy; Ger Cafferkey, Ciaran Folan, Colm Mitchell; Alan Ferguson (0-1f), Eoghan McGrath; Darren Murray (0-1f), Kevin Healy (1-0), Brian Peoples; Niall Feeney, Nicky Carolan (0-1), David Barrett (0-5,5f). Subs: Derek McDonnell, Paul Hughes, Oisin Farrell.

Ref: Mike Herr (Crossmolina)