Janesboro’s launched their title tilt in perfect fashion with an away victory over nine-man Ballynanty Rovers at Shelbourne Park.
Janesboro’s starting eleven featured four new signings, one of which notched an early debut goal to hand his new club the lead. Ronan Ryan, tasked with keeping tabs on John Tierney, fouled the number ten outside the box; Aled Harkin’s subsequent delivery was typically impeccable and finished by Donie Curtin on the stretch.
Pre-season preparations must have been thorough up at Pearse Stadium, as the visitors looked far sharper than their northside hosts throughout the opening half-hour. Shane Clarke, whose league form was patchy last season, provided ‘Boro with the perfect focal point in attack, dominating aerially and with back to goal.
Arron Nunan, whose performances tailed off at the turn of the year, also looked lively, always threatening to run in behind Balla’s Dan Lucey to avail of Clarke’s headed flick-ons.
The hosts, meanwhile, struggled to make headway in Janesboro’s defensive third. Kevin Nolan’s hold-up play was good on the rare occasion he received the ball into feet, but his side were otherwise far too keen on taking the direct route from back-to-front. Numerous passes from deep flew harmlessly over the heads of the visiting back four.
Balla did enjoy a purple patch just after the hour-mark however, when they switched 37-year-old former League of Ireland winner Bobby Ryan to the right flank. Ryan’s cross from the byline found Robert Brock at the near post, who beat Curtin easily and struck the ball towards the far corner of John Mulready’s goal. Onlookers were left scratching their heads as Danny O’Neill somehow prevented Nolan from converting on the line.
Balla were soon made to pay dearly for that missed opportunity when their deficit was doubled by a wonderful ‘Boro team goal. On the break, John Tierney cut inside from the left flank to feed Steven Bradley inside.
The industrious midfielder duly picked out O’Neill’s first overlapping run of the evening, while Nunan made the matching run to the back post. O’Neill’s perfect low cross found the winger, to give a taste of exactly why the attacking full-back was so heavily courted by Premier Division clubs during the off-season.
Balla responded to their two-goal half-time deficit by announcing Tony Fahy’s return to Premier Division football; Fahy joined Nolan up top in a 4-4-2.
Any hope of that tactical tweak turning the contest around was quickly extinguished however, when Bradley escaped punishment for a clear foul on Ronan Ryan in the Balla defensive third. Janesboro took full advantage of referee Brian Higgins’ decision; Tierney’s dribble to the byline saw the rejuvenated number ten tee up Clarke at the near post.
Incredibly, Balla pulled one back in similarly bizarre circumstances moments later. Mulready, whose distribution of the ball had been extremely impressive all evening, saw his attempt to feed Harkin rebound off Fahy’s back and into his own net!
Potentially smelling blood, Ballynanty then treated us to another Premier Division comeback. Coach Declan Considine’s gambit-of-choice when his Pike Rovers sides of old were trailing was to go with three strikers; so it proved here, with Davy Ryan joining the front-line for the last quarter-hour.
Early signs were promising, with Ryan coming close with a couple of half-chances as ‘Boro retreated. Alas for the hosts, some familiar indiscipline ensured that the Connie 4-3-3 didn’t last long; Liam Brock got his marching orders for an off-the-ball shove on Bradley, before David Dunphy, a recent returnee from long-term suspension, got the road again for landing a right hook on the chin of the same player.
With ten minutes remaining, that double disciplinary whammy did not help what had been an ultra-scrappy second-half, as the game subsequently meandered to its inevitable conclusion. Tom Daly ultimately endured a fruitless and frustrating managerial bow, while the newly-minted O’Hanlon/Ryan axis certainly hit the ground running.
Fahy 51′; Curtin 7′, Nunan 39′, S. Clarke 50′
Man of the Match