In September we looked back at one of the greatest Laois county football finals in history, the 1993 clash between The Heath and Ballyroan.
The Heath 2-17 Ballyroan 2-15 (after extra time)
1993 Laois SFC Final
In the history of Laois county football finals, the 1993 edition surely has to go down as one of the best ever?
Over two weeks The Heath and Ballyroan did battle, with The Heath finally coming out on top after extra time in the replay: 2-17 to 2-15.
Given that the highest winning score in the previous five finals had been 1-9 – and that it was 1-6 to 0-8, 0-7 to 0-5 and 0-8 to 0-6 in 1988, 1991 and 1992 for Portarlington, Portlaoise and Ballyroan’s successes – this draw and replay series was really a game from the Gods.
The 1990s was an incredibly democratic time in Laois club football.
Portlaoise’s dominant era came to an end in 1991 and across the 1990s, six different clubs would lift the Jack Delaney Cup: St Joseph’s, Ballyroan, The Heath, Stradbally, Portarlington and Portlaoise all had their days in the sun. Indeed from 1991 to 1995 there were five different winners and by 1997 there had been six different champions across seven years. Emo and The Rock also reached finals.
The 1993 championship was packed with drama and controversy. There were plot lines everywhere.
And the greatest story of all was The Heath.
Nineteen years had passed since they’d been senior champions but over a long and tough campaign – with a series of wins against neighbouring clubs – they were eventually crowned champions in late October.
It was one of the first seasons of the group stages and The Heath found themselves in a group with Emo, Portlaoise and Stradbally.
Narrow wins over Emo and Portlaoise and a draw with Stradbally ensured they went through to the quarter-finals, where they had a comfortable win over Park-Ratheniska.
Waiting in the semi-final was Stradbally. And for the second time that year it finished level, though that wasn’t the big talking point afterwards. Instead it was for an all-in brawl, described in the Leinster Express report as “a free for all which started in the 47th minute and play did not resume until the 54th minute”.
“Another free-for-all – another replay,” screamed the Leinster’s headline.
“There was no bookings following an incident which began with a foul and dangerous tackle on a Stradbally player and involved all 26 outfield players, selectors, team mentors and even some spectators.
“Eventually referee Pat Moran sorted the teams out, they huddled, discussed matters and the only action taken was the removal of a spectator from the sideline.”
That was a game The Heath really showed their battling qualities, kicking three points in injury time – from Denis Lalor, Noel Roe and Pat McNamee – to make a draw of it. For Stradbally, it was a missed opportunity.
They sides reconvened two weeks later for the replay and this time it was an epic, with The Heath winning 2-13 to 0-17 after extra time.
“Stradbally wilt in Heath wave,” was the Leinster Express headline. “The Heath and Stradbally served up one of the best games of this year’s championship, with The Heath pipping it at the very end by virtue of Pat Lalor’s insurance point.”
In normal time a late Damien Delaney free had sent it to extra time, with a standout stat being Stradbally’s 11 wides to The Heath’s one. But an extra time goal from sub John Booth was a crucial score as The Heath got their noses in front and survived a late scare when Delaney saw a goal effort whistle wide of the post. For The Heath it was a first final appearance since they’d won it back in 1974.
On the other side of the draw, Ballyroan, the champions of the previous year, had also been pushed to the limit, only advancing after a three-game saga with St Joseph’s in the quarter-final before getting the better of O’Dempsey’s in the semi-final.
For Ballyroan it was a marathon campaign, one that saw them narrowly lose the Leinster club final to January, win the delayed 1992 Division 1 league title in May and then play eight games to even get to the 1993 championship final.
“The Heath will feel they can beat us,” said player-selector Pat Dunne in an interview before the game. “Once Portlaoise aren’t in a county final, then every new team feels that way … The Heath won’t fear us.”
Beating Emo in the first round was highlighted by Heath captain Denis Lalor as a key moment. “We got a great start this year. Beating Emo by a point has set us up … I’ve been playing for The Heath seniors for ten years now but the performance in extra time against Stradbally, for commitment and determination, was the best I have ever been part of.”
Managing The Heath was Jackie Keyes, who had captained The Heath to their breakthrough senior success in 1957, the first of four triumphs in six years. Joining him on the management team was trainer Seamus Ftzpatrick from Carlow as well as Jackie Hyland and Mattie Bergin, championship winners with the club in 1974.
“The Heath relish the underdog role,” was the headline on one of the pieces in the Leinster Express preview. “Ballyroan will be hot favourites,” was a line in Brian Keyes’ preview but who sat on the fence somewhat in terms of a prediction.
“Neither side will go down without a fight. There is great character in both panels – now who will deliver the killer punch?”
As it turned out, we’d have to wait another week to find out. It finished a draw, 1-8 apiece.
The Heath had led 1-3 to 0-4 at half time, the goal coming from Con Dunne after a pass from Pat Lalor.
Ballyroan got a goal of their own within two minutes of the restart when Noel Delaney in for “a great goal after a strong run”. That put Ballyroan a point up but there was never more than one between them and it was a Noel Roe point in the 57th minute that was the equaliser.
But the general theme in the coverage afterwards was that The Heath had let Ballyroan off the hook.
“The Heath, with those wasp-like jerseys, simply hadn’t got a sting in their tail,” went the opening line of the match report.
“A county title was within their grasp in the closing minutes as they had the county champions hanging on by their finger nails, but they lacked the experience to finish them off.
“The Heath let it slip. Three wides in the closing 180 seconds of football cost them a memorable title win and now the element of surprise is gone.
“The Heath played very well, Ballyroan were poor on the day. Whether they had an off sixty minutes or that The Heath contained them well will be found out in the replay.”
“We were lucky to survive,” said Pat Dunne. “Throughout the game we were in trouble up the middle. Noel Roe and Sean Booth played very well. We played as well as we were let play.”
Six days later they met again, the first time a Laois senior final was played on a Saturday. In those years the National League began in the Autumn and Laois were due to play Louth in the opening round of Division 2 on the Sunday.
Eventually The Heath got the job done in front of a huge crowd in the replay, inspired by six points from Sean Booth and five from captain Denis Lalor.
The Heath looked to have had it won in normal time when they led 2-8 to 0-11 after goals from teenager Barry McNamee and Pat Lalor. But Noel Delaney popped up to palm to the net from close range in injury time and John Conway’s full-time whistle shortly after meant it was a draw.
“The Heath now looked in trouble, conceding such a goal and now extra time. Ballyroan celebrated as if they had won the county final.”
But extra time then meant another 30 minutes. There was still a huge amount of football to play.
A Jim Gee goal in the first period meant Ballyroan had a significant lead, 2-12 to 2-9, for the first time in the game.
But they couldn’t see it out. The Heath had another kick in them, scoring eight points from then on, with Lalor, Booth and sub Liam Doran all pointing.
“Denis Lalor was outstanding,” read the match report. “One of the finest performances ever seen at O’Moore Park. Other outstanding Heath performances came from Pat Roe, Noel Roe, Paul Daly, John Browne, Barry McNamee and Sean Booth.”
“It was like a family reunion,” noted the Leinster Express. “The title coming back to The Heath after 19 years, the nearly team coming good, players, ex-players all hugging and congratulating a community effort.”
Indeed The Heath team was a real family effort, consisting of six sets of brothers: Ger and Con Dunne, Don and Johnny Browne, Denis and Pat Lalor, Sean and Paul Booth, Pat and Noel Roe and Pat and Barry McNamee. Adding a layer of intrigue was that midfielder Donie Norton was up against his brother Greg, who was playing for Ballyroan.
Incidentally many of The Heath and Ballyroan players had won a senior hurling championship with Clonad only a year earlier.
The Heath were in Leinster club championship action a week later when they were big winners over Barrow Rangers of Kilkenny, 1-20 to 0-4, but their magical campaign came to an end a couple of weeks later when an Erins Isle side comprising Keith Barr and Charlie Redmond, beat them 1-11 to 0-9 in O’Moore Park.
The following year The Heath’s reign as champions was ended by St Joseph’s in the quarter-final and they never got back to a senior final again. Ballyroan were also beaten by St Joseph’s in 1994, in the semi-final, and they wouldn’t get back to a final again until they won it in 2006.
SCORERS – The Heath: Sean Booth 0-6, Con Dunne 1-1, Denis Lalor and Noel Roe 0-1 each. Ballyroan: Noel Delaney 1-1, Enda McDonald 0-2, John Irwin and Liam Irwin 0-2 each, John Murphy 0-1
THE HEATH: Ger Dunne; Dom Browne, Pat McNamee, Paul Daly; John Browne, Denis Lalor, John Lalor; Donie Norton, Pat Roe; Pat Lalor, Sean Booth, Barry McNamee; Paul Booth, Noel Roe, John Booth. Subs: Con Dunne for J Booth, Liam Doran for P Booth, Pat Booth for C Dunne
BALLYROAN: Tony McMahon; Michael Drennan, Pat Dunne, Paddy McWey; Wayne Scully, John Irwin, Mick Fitzpatrick; John Murphy, PJ Delaney; Noel Delaney, Liam Irwin, Enda McDonald; Pat Whelan, Jim Whelan, Jim Gee. Subs: Pat Dunne for McMahon, Jim Dunne for Gee
SCORERS – The Heath: Sean Booth 0-6, Denis Lalor 0-5, Pat Lalor and Barry McNamee 1-1 each, Noel Roe 0-2, Liam Doran and John Lalor 0-1. Ballyroan: Noel Delaney and Jim Gee 1-1 each, Liam Irwin and Enda McDonald 0-3 each, Jim Whelan 0-2, Michael Drennan, Tom Gee, Jim Dunne, Paddy McWey and Pat Whelan 0-1 each,
THE HEATH: Ger Dunne; Dom Browne, Pat McNamee, Paul Daly; John Browne, Denis Lalor, John Lalor; Donie Norton, Pat Roe; Pat Lalor, Sean Booth, Paul Booth; Barry McNamee, Noe Roe, Con Dunne. Subs: Ray Whelan for P Booth, Liam Doran for Whelan, Pat Kelly for C Dunne, Pat Doran for Kelly
BALLYROAN: Tony McMahon; Michael Drennan, Pat Dunne, Tom McMahon; Wayne Scully, John Irwin, Paddy McWey; John Murphy, PJ Delaney; Noel Delaney, Liam Irwin, Enda McDonald; Pat Whelan, Jim Whelan, Jim Dunne. Subs: Jim Gee for P Whelan, Mick Fitzpatrick for Tom McMahon, Greg Norton for PJ Delaney, Tom Gee for J Whelan, Pat Whelan for J Dunne
REFEREE: John Conway (Arles)