Ballybrittas’ hopes of Division 2 survival were dealt a crushing blow in Rath on Sunday morning when fellow strugglers Birr Town came away with all three points in this keenly contested relegation dogfight.
The visiting Birr men had bossed the majority of the possession but allowed the hosts back into the tie with the kind of sloppy defending that has plagued their season so far.
However, they responded in style with two goals midway through the second half and Brendan McNair’s consolation goal late on merely took some of the gloss off what was a massive win for the Birr men.
The home side were second best for much of the opening period and only some poor finishing from the Birr attack kept the game scoreless for as long as it did. Ballybrittas managed to hold out for over twenty minutes before the constant wave of Birr advances eventually told.
A swift move down the left wing saw Philip Evans create some space and he rolled a clever pass across the edge of the 18-yard box where Justin Joyce was loitering with intent. Joyce didn’t panic and rather than pulling wildly on it, he calmly side-footed a sweeping low shot into the bottom left hand corner of Padraig Bannon’s net.
Bannon then denied Merve Salako with a decent stop at the Birr stiker’s feet but from the resulting corner Town doubled their advantage. Kevin Brummell sent the ball in and Simon Cleary reacted fastest to poke a goalward-bound Justin Joyce header back across the goal leaving the Ballybrittas keeper with no chance of getting near it.
It looked like Birr would take that lead in with them at the break but just on the stroke of half-time the hosts finally found a way past the Birr rearguard with a well-taken strike. Eamon Dunne’s corner was headed back out to the veteran forward and at the second time of asking he floated an inch-perfect ball onto the head of the rising Darren Finlay who diverted a looping header into the back of the net.
After dominating the half comfortably, Birr would have been forgiven for wondering how they were only a goal up at the interval but things got even worse for them after the restart when Ballybrittas got back on terms.
Again Eamon Dunne was in the thick of things for Ballybrittas when he slid a low ball down the right wing for Johnny Greene to chase. Green hit a decent effort on the turn but it was one that experienced keeper Fred Ryan will know he should have dealt with better. He attempted to claw the shot away with one hand but it crept past his outstretched hand and into the net.
After losing concentration to allow Ballybrittas back into the contest, Birr suddenly sprang back to life and with just over an hour gone they restored the lead through Willie Shortt. A speculative high ball in almost ended in a Michael Fitzgerald own goal and although Padraig Bannon did extremely well to save Fitzgerald’s blushes, Salako pounced on the rebound and unselfishly laid it off to Shortt who made no mistake from close range to punish the Ballybrittas hesitations at the back.
Ten minutes later Salako got on the scoresheet himself when another dangerous high ball into the box wasn’t dealt with by the tiring home backline and Salako nipped in between Bannon and Des McNair and cheekily nodded home his side’s fourth of the afternoon.
That goal effectively ended the hosts challenge and although they typically kept on battling, anything other than a Birr win would have been an injustice.
A sweetly struck volley from Brendan McNair briefly gave Ballybrittas a chance but referee Rory Goggins called a halt to proceedings two minutes later and Birr finally make their way out of the relegtaion zone with this gritty victory.
Ballybrittas look to be in serious danger of slipping down to Division 3 now, but a couple of new signings are in the offing and if they can string together a couple of wins after the Christmas break, they might just stave off the drop.
BALLYBRITTAS: Padraig Bannon, Des McNair (David McNair 80), Alan Gaynor, Brendan McNair, Kyle Condron, Mick O’Connell (Eamon Melia 78), Shane Mullins (Eoin Mahoney 80), Darren Finlay, Johnny Greene (Michael Fitzgerald 61), Rory Maher, Eamon Dunne (Sean Gordon 78).
BIRR TOWN B: Fred Ryan, Kevin Brummel, Paudge Kennedy, Stephen Lyons, Mark Nolan, Craig Pardy (Stephen Brummel 56), Philip Evans, Justin Joyce, Simon Cleaty, Merve Salako, Willie Shortt.
Referee: Rory Goggins