By Michael McMullan
HE may have been a major injury doubt, but there was never a question of goalkeeper Ryan Scullion’s involvement in Ballinascreen’s do or die relegation play-off with Lavey.
Scullion saved three penalties in Friday’s shoot-out at end of a nip and tuck 80 minutes of action before Antain Donnelly’s winning penalty ensured Ballinascreen’s top-flight status for 2024.
A dislocated finger at Derry training days before their All-Ireland group game win over Donegal required surgery.
“I said all along that I would be playing in this game, no matter what, whether it was by hook or by crook,” Scullion said.
Occupational therapy rated his recovery time at 12 weeks from surgery, with the surgeon halving the comeback trail until the Saturday before Derry’s defeat to Kerry.
“It’s still swollen up like a balloon,” Scullion said after Friday’s rollercoaster. “I can’t bend it and I can’t straighten it. It is currently sitting out of place but it was never a question of not playing. I had to help the boys out.”
The penalty shoot-out was only part of Scullion’s impact. He floated over an early free, flicked away a dangerous dropping ball and made an instinctive save when Lavey were on top.
“Ryan Doyle dived on it. Antain Donnelly dived on it. I had the easy work; they had the pressure on,” Scullion modestly said of his game-changing save.
With time running out and neither side able to fully grab hold of the game, a penalty shoot-out always looking likely.
From early in extra-time, Scullion had the feeling their fate would be decided by who could hold their nerve in the pressure cooker of penalties, adding that it’s no way to decide a game.
“I feel sorry for Lavey,” he said. “No team should have to go down a division over penalties. They’ll take it and bounce back; they have that pedigree.”
Scullion picks his side for the penalties. He takes a glance at both the kicker’s stance and runup, then takes his chances.
Scud save pic.twitter.com/XQ7Nc4zHjB
— Michael McMullan (@malmcmullan) July 21, 2023
“We’ll be looking to bounce off this,” Scullion said of their win, with a championship opener with Swatragh coming down the tracks.
“We have been going poorly, there is no doubt about that. We only got two wins during the league. We had a lot of injuries. Myself and Benny (Heron) were missing (on county duty).”
He also points to a host of other players coming back and managing knocks to walk into the last chance saloon that was Friday’s clash.
“We weren’t the changing of that team (Heron and Scullion). There were a lot more people that came into that team tonight that didn’t play during the league,” adding Scullion, indicating that while it was Ballinascreen’s “championship final” and the need to stay up was huge, they needed to play with enjoyment.
“If we went down, then we deserved to go down. We finished the league with four points. If we had lost tonight, there could’ve been no arguments.”