Ballybrittas recovered from the concession of an early goal to rattle five past Coolraine in their final home game of the season on Sunday morning.
The win means that a win in their final game away to Clonbonny will see them oust Laois rivals Abbeyleix Athletic to top spot, but with Clonbonny still in with a shout of promotion, that will be easier said than done for Noel Whelehan’s bustling Ballybrittas side.
Their job on Sunday was made all the more difficult by the absence of star striker Brendan Lacumber due to a family bereavement, and for the opening quarter of an hour his teammates were clearly missing their top scorer. Conceding possession at will, the hosts played with a nervousness that allowed their opponents to gain a foothold and they took full advantage just ten minutes in when Shane Delaney stole past two Ballybrittas defenders before firing a low shot across Mick O’Connell’s goal into the bottom left hand corner of the net.
That setback finally sprung the title contenders to life and it wasn’t long before they were back on terms. Anton Ryan and Brian Farrell both had half-chances before Alan Gaynor’s superb cross was met by Brendan McNair who directed an unstoppable header past Coolraine keeper Mick Feery.
The men in blue poured forward and Darren Finlay perhaps should have done better when Brian Mahoney’s strong run and cross was met by Finlay eight yards out but he glanced wide. Brian Farrell then came even closer when he slid in at the back post but could only direct Mahoney’s flick-on off the post. Coolraine were living dangerously but just when it looked like it would be honours even at the break, Ballybrittas struck to dramatically swing the balance of the game.
Brian Farrell sent in a deep corner that Brendan McNair did very well to nod back across goal and Brian Mahoney was on hand to sweep a well-struck half-volley past a sea of bodies into the bottom left hand corner. The hosts were full value for their half-time lead and they would build on that impressively in the second.
Right from the restart the hunger and desire to keep their title aspirations alive was evident and Coolraine, with little to play for, had no answer. Just four minutes in, the home side increased their lead with a goal that the Coolraine management will be less than happy about.
Brian Farrell had struck a well-worked move just wide but Brendan McNair’s unchallenged header directly from Mick Feery’s kick out landed at the feet of Darren Finlay who waited for the oncoming keeper to make his move before rolling a composed strike into the empty net.
It was all Ballybrittas from there on in, although had Coolraine striker Rob Vickers not missed a glaring opportunity with just over half an hour left, the hosts might have found life considerably harder. Vickers fluffed a close-range shot after good work from Pat Cosgrave but that summed up Coolraine’s performance once Ballybrittas had equalised and ten minutes later Finlay turned provider by holding up possession long enough for Shane Wilson to arrive on the scene and smash home his side’s fourth.
Nothing was going right for the away side and their misery was compounded with twenty minutes on the clock when a Brian Farrell cross was flicked on by Seamus Wilson and trickled over the line after cannoning off the arm of unwitting defender Chris Geoghan.
BALLYBRITTAS: Mick O’Connell, Des McNair, Alan Gaynor (Pauric Dunne 70), Padraig Wilson, Paul Foley, Darren Finlay (Trevor Whyte 70), Brian Farrell (Shane Mullins 70), Seamus Wilson, Brian Mahoney (John McCallum 70), Anton Ryan (Ger King 61), Brendan McNair.
COOLRAINE: Mick Feery, Michael Courtney, Aaron Ryan, Dermot Feery, Chris Geoghan, Jimmy Mahon, Paul Kelly, Sean Hackett, Pat Cosgrave, Robert Vickers, Shane Delaney.
Referee: Alan Dunne