Ballylinan withstood a frantic Graiguecullen comeback to seal a three point win last Friday night in O'Moore Park.
Having been mired in a relegation battle last year, Ballylinan can now breathe a sigh of relief and look forward to pushing on for the rest of the championship. They dominated the game for about 40 minutes, opening up an 11 point lead, but were placed under relentless pressure thereafter.
Graiguecullen finally threw off the shackles and started to play some football at that stage, and the introduction of Danny Doogue almost won them the game. One of the stars of Laois' 1996 All-Ireland minor winning campaign, he showed his formidable instinct for goal once he got himself on the field.
He had four chances for goal in the 15 minutes he was on the field, scoring two and seeing a late effort for an equalizer saved. Graiguecullen did everything they could to get a result, but in the end they didn't really deserve it, with Ballylinan having been the better side for more of the game.
Gary Kavanagh's charges played a nice brand of football, and in Gary Walsh, they had a player that Graiguecullen couldn't get to grips with. They are very young too, and it was no surprise to see them get nervous when they opened up such a lead, but the experience will do them the world of good.
They got off to a bright start when Gary Walsh pointed a free in the second minute, but they didn't fully settle into the game for a while after that. Graiguecullen didn't score until the eighth minute, when a superb one-handed catch by Aaron Forbes allowed him to play a one-two before firing over the equalizer.
Parity lasted barely a minute, as Pauraic McEvoy kicked Ballylinan back in front, before a strong run from the impressive Cathail Dunne ended with him fisting over a point from a tight angle.
Ballylinan were starting to hit their stride now, and moments after Dunne's score they were awarded a penalty for a foot-block on Andy McEvoy. Gary Walsh stepped up to take it, and he kept his nerve to calmly slot the ball into the the bottom right corner of the net.
Two minutes later he almost had a second when his shot hit the base of the post and bounced into then grateful arms of Mark Timmons, as Graiguecullen were at sixes and sevens.
Ambrose Doran tried to settle some nerves with a free, but Ballylinan responded with points from Gary Walsh and Cathail Dunne to go six clear. Graiguecullen hit back with another free, this time from Brian Byrne, but Ballylinan were well on toip, and Cathail Dunne's third point of the half pushed them six ahead once more.
Graiguecullen needed to throw themselves a lifeline before half time, and Liam Kearney tried with a good score from the right wing, but Andy McEvoy quickly cancelled it out. Aaron Forbes then saw a goal chance saved before another Ambrose Doran free got the gap down to five at the break, 1-7 to 0-5.
Graiguecullen must have felt they were still in the game at half time, but Ballylinan kicked up a gear when play resumed. A good run from Andy McEvoy saw him through on goal, and he offloaded to James Redmond, who was left with a simple finish.
A minute later, a long ball over the top found McEvoy all on his own, and he didn't need any help this time as he expertly dispatched the ball to the back of the net.
Ballylinan now lead 3-7 to 0-5 and it seemed only a matter of how much they would win by, but Graiguecullen slowly came to life after that. They had two goal chances in quick succession, both snuffed out by the Ballylinan defence, before Ian Fleming pointed a 45.
Ambrose Doran and Fleming once more added points, before the introduction of Danny Doogue gave them another boost. He goaled just two minutes after coming on, and four more Graigue points in the next ten minutes got them within three of Ballylinan.
Rather than panic, Ballylinan responded by hitting three points in a row, one from Cathail Dunne and two from Gary Walsh. Now six ahead with 63 minutes played, they looked safe, but then Danny Doogue pounced for his second goal, and the game was in the mix once more.
Doogue had one more chance before the end, but his left-footed shot was saved and Ballylinan survived to claim the win.
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