A VIL­LAGE AF­FAIR!

Rath­new AFC C make it an his­toric de­cider

Bray People - - SPORT - DANIEL GOR­MAN At White­gates

RATH­NEW AFC oblit­er­ated the his­tory books and in­stalled their own chap­ter on Sun­day as they be­came the first ever club to have two teams con­test the Wick­low Cup fi­nal and also, the first club to ever have a side from out­side the top two tiers make it to the last stage.

Ash­ford Rovers had hoped to ruin the Vil­lagers’ his­toric day, but af­ter a limp 110 min­utes of foot­ball, they had their hopes crushed in a penalty shoot-out.

Chances were very few and far be­tween at the White­gates in nor­mal or ex­tra time, so it all boiled down to a shoot-out, the same way in which Rath­new had won their quar­ter fi­nal against Wick­low Town A.

John Sayer set the ball rolling as he net­ted from the first ef­fort, but a save apiece from James Hunter and Paul Con­yard and a wide from Niall Mooney al­lowed Mark Doyle to make it 0-2 to the Di­vi­sion 3 North side.

Ja­son O’Brien’s re­taken ef­fort got his side off the mark, but Paul Ro­nan’s suc­cess­ful 12-yarder left Rath­new at match point and Jody Mer­ri­gan, on his would-be de­but for Rath­new C, fired home the win­ning spot kick to seal his side’s place in the fi­nal.

All the build-up and hype quickly died down as the two sides threw cau­tious jabs of the open­ing half hour, the clos­est ei­ther came to chances were Finn Brooks’ header from Peter Bell’s cross and Brendan Man­ning’s 25 yard drive, both of which failed to trou­ble Rath­new cus­to­dian James Hunter who made two com­fort­able saves.

Hunter was amongst the ac­tion again when Andrew Reilly’s cor­ner fell to Niall Mooney 15 yards out but his snapshot was hacked clear af­ter the first real dan­ger of note in the match.

Rovers’ pres­sure con­tin­ued and they feel they should have been re­warded with a penalty on the stroke of half time. Niall Mooney chipped a pass up to Dean Doyle, who con­trolled and at­tempted to turn past his man in­side the penalty area. There def­i­nitely seemed to be some con­tact, which sent Doyle to the floor, but as ref­eree Paul O’Brien charged in it was to flash Doyle a yel­low card and not award him a spot kick.

Rath­new then called in the cav­alry as they sent in Jody Mer­ri­gan to re­place Craig But­ler. Mer­ri­gan was a mem­ber of this sea­son’s Os­car Traynor panel and, ear­lier on Sun­day, had net­ted six times for Rath­new AFC in a Di­vi­sion 2 fix­ture.

It looked like Rath­new’s gam­ble had im­me­di­ately paid off when Mer­ri­gan hit the net on 61 min­utes. John Sayer curled in a free kick and the striker dis­patched it to the net. Un­for­tu­nately for him, the of­fi­cials had spotted that he had ac­tu­ally used his hand to score and was duly booked.

Rovers al­most snatched a late win­ner in nor­mal time in the most for­tu­itous cir­cum­stances as the ball re­bounded wickedly up into the sky but the back­track­ing Hunter man­aged to claw it away from un­der his cross­bar.

With the last kick of nor­mal time, Rath­new could have won it. It was Mark Doyle’s free kick, Mick O’Rourke’s fol­low-up cross and Richard Doyle with the chance; but the right back could only di­vert the loose ball into Con­yard’s midriff.

Some fine striker’s in­stincts from Jody Mer­ri­gan nearly yielded a goal in the first pe­riod of ex­tra time but he drilled nar­rowly over Con­yard’s cross­bar with what proved to be the game’s fi­nal chance.

And so it penal­ties. Rath­new had al­ready dis­posed of one Pre­mier side by the same method and now they were hop­ing to add Ash­ford Rovers to their pile of vic­tims.

Sayer sent Con­yard the wrong way be­fore Dean Mooney was de­nied by the legs of Hunter.

Ro­nan Cof­fey could have dou­bled Rath­new’s lead but was foiled by Con­yard, and then a very con­fi­dent Niall Mooney sent his ef­fort bob­bling wide.

Mark Doyle steered his 12-yarder just in­side the post to make it 2-0, Ja­son O’Brien looked to have missed his side’s third spot kick but when Paul O’Brien or­dered a re­take, the Rovers de­fender dinked his ef­fort in off the post.

Paul Ro­nan also had two at­tempts; Con­yard saved the first but could do noth­ing about the sec­ond and that left it at match point to Rath­new.

Paul Bur­ton kept his side’s hopes alive but it was Rath­new’s day, as Jody Mer­ri­gan drilled his ef­fort to Con­yard’s right to fire his side into the Wick­low Cup fi­nal.

Top Form: John Sayer (Rath­new AFC): No mat­ter what po­si­tion he was placed in, he was hun­gry and de­ter­mined to win.

Rath­new's Ro­nan Cof­fey and Ash­ford's Finn Brooks com­pete for poses­sion dur­ing the Wick­low Cup semi-fi­nal in White­gates, Wick­low. Pic­ture: Garry O'Neill

Rath­new's Paul Ro­nan reaches the ball ahead of Ash­ford's Peter Bell dur­ing the Wick­low Cup semi-fi­nal in White­gates, Wick­low.

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