A VILLAGE AFFAIR!
Rathnew AFC C make it an historic decider
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.