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

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