Fresh from their Junior Hurling exploits and success, there was an expectation that Kildavin\Clonegal would come into the first round of the championship with their tails up and full of confidence especially with most of the panel involved in the hurling.
Their tails were certainly up but on Sunday afternoon in Netwatch Cullen Park they just seemed to lack confidence in front of goal and spurned too many chances to give themselves a chance of a win.
Their opponents were the the complete opposite. Confidence in front of goal was sky high, which was evident from their shoot on sight policy which more often than not paid off.
James Kehoe was the key man for Ballinabranna. Time and again he was available for possession in key areas and while one or two of his efforts were wild, overall he was arguably the difference between the two sides.
Goals win games is the old adage and while both sides had goal chances it was the western side who took theirs while Kildavin\Clonegal were a combination of unlucky and wasteful in front of the Ballinabranna net.
Going in seven points up didn’t really reflect the Ballinabranna first half performance. In the first seven minutes they spurned a goal chance and kicked a relatively easy free 4 miles wide. Their opponents had opened the scoring with a steady run and finish from Liam McGuill but Damien McMahon's charges responded with 1-1. The goal was the end product of a lovely jinking run from Keelan Brennan while the point was a superb curler from James Kehoe who judged the wind perfectly, making up for his earlier 4 miler.
Kildavin/Clonegal responded with a hard earned free from Luc Devlin but Ballinabranna entered the most purple of purple patches and hit 1-4 on the trot, only really interrupted by a terrific goal opportunity for Kildavin\Clonegal which was somehow missed on the double when scoring seemed easier.
The second Ballinabranna goal was dispatched by Mark Fitzgerald after being fed by James Kehoe. Kehoe initially tried to call a mark which wasn’t on and it perhaps caused a momentary lapse in concentration from the defence which allowed Fitzgerald the opportunity. Credit to Gary Dunne and Ceilum D’Arcy for two excellent pointed scores in between also.
Kildavin\Clonegal finished the half on an upward trajectory with two points from Paul Nolan and Luc Devlin from a free making it 2-5 to 0-4 at the break.
The trailing side came out with great purpose in the second half and a lovely direct burst from Luc Devlin after just 20 seconds gave his side the second half start they needed.
However, for every score they kicked, Ballinabranna kicked two and captain Andy Mulleney wriggled his way through a crowd of bodies to get the best of his sides scores this half and Kehoe hit over a free. Liam Roberts responded for Kildavin\Clonegal with a score in acres of space but Kehoe and Fitzgerald replied.
McGuill pointed for the red and black men and had another goal chance cleared away only for Mulleney to peel away at the other end, sell a dummy and pop over a 40m peach.
All that action featured in the first eight minutes of the second half and the game was drifting a bit until the introduction of the great Joe Roberts. He came on in the 12th minute and by the 14th he had two points on the board, the second being a real Joe special off the left peg and curled it in.
Disappointingly it was the last score of the game. Neither side managed to raise a flag in the final quarter of the game.
Ballinabranna have a really good chance of making a straight semi final as they are unlikely to have more of a challenge in this group than Sundays opponents.
Kildavin\Clonegal will need to, and most likely will get over their nearest neighbours in Kilbride next weekend, leaving a battle for second place in the group between Eire Og and Kildavin\Clonegal.
Kildavin\Clonegal: Darren Coleman; Darragh Bolger, Paul Kelly, Niall Murphy; Gavin Byrne, Barry Hickey, Liam Roberts (0-1); Niall Hickey, Liam McGuill (0-3); Padraic Ryan, Paraic Hickey, Ian St.Ledger; Paul Nolan, Luc Devlin(0-3,2f), Alex Callaghan. Subs: Joe Roberts(0-2) for Ian St.Ledger
Ballinabranna: David Byrne; Evan Tunstead, Lar Dermody, Bobby Daly snr; Andy Mulleney(0-2), Jimmy Cahill, Cormac O’Hara(0-1); Colin Byrne, Patrick Meaney; James Kehoe(0-3,1f,1m), Gary Dunne(0-1), Ceilum D’Arcy(0-1); Kealan Brennan(1-1), Bobby Daly jnr, Mark Fitzgerald (1-1) Subs: Ben McDonald for Bobby Daly (snr).
Referee: Paud Dwyer (Palatine)