IT’S not how you start, but how you end a match that counts... but few would argue that Ballinderry’s blistering opening 10 minutes proved too much for a spirited Clonoe.
The Derry champions raced into a three-point lead, raising the first white flag on 20 seconds with a clinical finish from Aaron Devlin.
The signs looked ominous for Clonoe under heavy skies at Celtic Park, until Daniel McNulty landed his team’s first point.
But in a trend that was to be repeated until the end of the match, Ballinderry responded instantly with a flowing move rounded off with afine point for full-back Conor Nevin.
Clonoe did spark into life as the game entered its second quarter and they enjoyed increasing amounts of possession. A Connor McAliskey point made it 0-04 to 0-02. Again Ballinderry pointed straight back, after a storming run from the impressive Ryan Bell who off-loaded to Collie Devlin.
After another point for Ballinderry, the contest could have effectively ended on 19 minutes, when a samba-style volley from Darren Lawn from a rebound, flashed narrowly wide of the Clonoe goal.
Supporters of the Derry champions, gave a rousing response to a magical point from distance by McKinless, but Clonoe rallied as torrential rain lashed Celtic Park.
With just four minutes until half time, McAliskey reduced the deficit to two points with a close-in free.
What should have been a crucial score was inevitably matched by a superb point from Ballinderry’s Conleith Gilligan.
PJ Lavery missed a reasonable chance for Clonoe, and Ballinderry saw another effort rebound off the post, to leave the half-time score 0-08 to 0-04.
At the restart, Ballinderry went for the jugular, with Clonoe keeper Michael O’Neill coming out to smother a shot from McKinless.
Having escaped another goal-mouth scare, Clonoe began to take control around the centre of the park, with Dorris exerting an attacking control.
This period of superiority saw Clonoe claw their way back to within two points, after scores from Lavery and McAliskey.
The introduction of Enda Muldoon proved yet another turning point in the match, as the former Derry star used his experience to tip the scales back in Ballinderry’s favour.
But Clonoe continued to stand and trade punches, as the teams swapped scores heading into the last 10 minutes.
Star forward McAliskey was taken off injured, and the resulting free from McNulty reduced the margin to two points again.
Any nerves that Ballinderry may have had in the final straight, were banished by their superior forwards, who stepped up to see off the challenge of Clonoe in the closing stages.
Aaron Devlin, one of eight different scorers for the Derry champs landed a beauty from out on the right, a score which restored their three-point advantage and visibly wilted the Clonoe players in the final minutes.
Speaking after the final whistle, Clonoe manager Damian Cassidy refused to blame the short seven day period they had to prepare for the game after winning the Tyrone title last week.
“We went and prepared well for this match under the circumstances, and we did give it a good rattle,” he said.
“The first 10 minutes, is in the final analysis, where we lost the game.
“Ballinderry came in at a whirlwind pace and our inexperience was very, very evident in that first 10 to 12 minute period.
“They got a three, four point lead, but once we came to terms with that, we more than held our own and we brought the game back to two points with five minutes to go.
“We never got the opportunity to test the character that was in Ballinderry. They were able to play in front and that allowed them to relax and play.
“Our character was not in question today, we responded to the test that was there, we were in a position to go alongside Ballinderry, but time ran out for us today, but that is the nature of the game.”