ICE COOL COEN CAPS
FROM the moment he set off on that long trek from the centre circle to the box after Dean Odlum had missed his penalty kick, there was just no way that Brian Coen was going to miss.
The 10th penalty kick of the shoot out in the Wicklow Cup final in 2016, the chance of glory, a set of bullock-wide shoulders, a head as cool as Frozen’s Olaf: Ashford’s defensive rock just wasn’t going to fail.
You could sense it from the way he trotted up the field, performed a textbook GAA pick up, walked towards the penalty spot like a man making a burst for communion on a Sunday morning at mass, placed the ball deftly on the spot, and retreated those 10 manly steps as the crowd began to whirr in anticipation.
He approached with intent as the noise grew to its crescendo, struck poorly and watched as the ball flew low and hard, nudged the post and flew across the back of the goal and for a millisecond the crowd thought he had missed but then those powerful arms were spread wide and like a muscular pretend fighter jet the Tipperary native set off on an erratic celebration run that took him behind the goals and into the arms of dozens of Ashford Rovers supporters and players as the supporters in blue cheered and roared as sweet and beautiful Wicklow Cup glory had been achieved by Clifton Conyard’s men.
The dream had come true. Semi-final and final defeats in the last two years were things of the distant past. Be gone defeat. Be gone heartbreak. Be gone despair. Hello joy. Hello success. Hello victory.
It had been some game; drama aplenty; two fortuitous enough goals; Ashford taking the lead thanks to the never-say-die attitude of Finn Brooks. Newtown needing a leader, a warrior, a hero to get them back into the game and who else but Dessie Waters responding and connecting on a ball that had ricocheted off the knee of Ashford keeper Graham Mooney after a point blank save and no Ashford body able to get in the way of the ball as it meandered sweetly to the back of the Rovers net.
All square, and then the fiercely intense extra-time as bodies tired in the heavy heat, and, finally, Carl Doyle’s final whistle heralding penalties.
Up first was Dessie Waters. Introduced early in the second half as Trevor O’Brien tried to work some magic and engineer some more goal chances. The Newtown star placed the ball and Carl Doyle tried to usher some supporters away from behind the goals in Lamberton. Waters had reached the end of his retreat from the ball and waited as the supporters moved. The announcer on the microphone ordered the supporters away. Seconds ticked by and no doubt the goals shrank inch by inch as Waters waited. Finally the whistle and up he ran. He tried to place the ball but it flew horribly high and over the bar and the cheers and jeers sounded before Dessie’s hands had reached his head in despair. Ashford needed to seize upon this advantage and who better to send out for their first kick than their captain, Andrew ‘Smiley’ Reilly. His walk seemed to take about a week and then he placed the ball and retreated. “C’mon Smiley,” someone roared. Lee Fitzpatrick danced like a young Muhammed Ali on the goal line. The whistle sounded. Up ran Reilly and bang, he drove it hard and high with his left well above the diving Newtown netminder to the back of the net.
The warrior like figure of Mark Fitzsimons was next to break from the Newtown group and make the long walk to the box. His stroll looked like he was considering breaking into a jog but something was stopping him and he walked all the way. He placed the ball at the second time of asking, retreated as Graham Mooney performed a sort of weird side shuffle dance from an embarrassing 1980s disco, and then strode up and smacked the ball low and hard to the bottom corner with Mooney diving the wrong way.
A casual stroll and a single bounce of the ball brought Callum Pursey to the penalty spot. He trekked backwards and began his run, pausing ever so slightly, but connected terribly and the ball screwed wide of the post much to the delight of the Newtown faithful.
Shane Mooney was next up. The burly Newtown defender seemed to have trouble with the penalty spot but eventually got the ball placed to his liking and stepped back. “La, la, la, la, la,” sang someone from the crowd in a distinctly unsupportive tone of voice. Mooney ran up and struck for shoulder height and watched as Graham Mooney got a hand to the ball but the Ashford keeper could only briefly delay its journey to the back of the net. 2-1 to Newtown.
Like a man walking across an empty dancefloor to ask a woman out for the first slow set of the evening, Danny Byrne made his way to the penalty spot, scooped up the ball with this foot and placed it gingerly. He walked back, giving himself a nice angle, approached and deftly placed it beyond a despairing Lee Fitzpatrick who must have only been inches away from saving.
There seemed to be a weight on Ross Odlum’s shoulders as he made the long trek up to the box. A lot can happen in the mind on that journey. Odlum placed, Odlum retreated, Odlum struck and Mooney dived and caught and held and Odlum turned and stretched his jersey up to cover his face for the long return trip home.
A leisurely amble is the only way you could describe Luke Byrne’s approach to the box for his kick. He stepped back and struck low and straight down the middle, finding only Lee Fitzpatrick’s knee along the way and the ball flew back out like a missile as Fitzpatrick leaped to his feet and punched the air with delight. 2-2, all square.
Dean Odlum’s approach to the box suggested that strict speed limits had been placed on the players and that they had to walk as calmly and slowly as possible. The Magpies legend performed a GAA pick up, made two stabs at the penalty spot with his boot, sat the ball and took a short walk back. Up he came and he tried to place it low to Mooney’s right but the Ashford keeper was down in a flash and the save was made.
And so all in the Bridgewater Centre Park watched as Tipperary native Brian Coen trotted up from the centre circle (the only player to jog towards the ball on the day). The former Wicklow GAA county player said in a preview interview that his worst memory in soccer was losing a Tipperary Cup final. He looked confident. He looked calm. He looked assured. That Premier chest was stuck out like a 32DD bust as he made his way to the penalty spot. Ball down, he walked back to the edge of the D, that run, that strike, that ball in the back of then net and away he went like a lunatic who has briefly escaped the clutches of the asylum guards. The supporters jumped the fence, wooden beams were dislodged, cheers and roars and happy hollers rang out on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. Ashford Rovers were the champions. It feels like it was always meant to be so.
That same feeling wasn’t as pronounced as Newtown started brightly in the game at a tremendously well turned out Bridgewater Centre Park. The teams had paraded from the dressing rooms to the centre of the field as a small crowd took their places for the pinnacle clash in the Wicklow soccer season.
With the music quietened and all the pomp out of the way, Carl Doyle sounded that historic whistle and we were off in Lamberton.
The first real chance fell to Mark Fitzsimons. Dean Odlum released Ryan Cahill into the Ashford box and his effort was half blocked and fell into the path of the marauding Sean Hefferan whose shot was also interfered with but it flew across the square to the feet of Fitzsimons who controlled it with his right and pulled hard with his left but the ball flew high over the bar.
Michael Taylor blocked a Ryan