N END WIN 5-4 ON PENS
HISTORIC OCCASION, nerve-jangling tension, unbridled joy; the players, coaches and supporters of North End United wouldn’t have it any other way. This is how you want to become the first-ever Wexford winner of the FAI New Balance Junior Cup.
That’s how a ten-round competition should end. North End could have pushed on after half-time and won handier, but the kiss of the cup lingers longer like this, and that first refreshing, celebratory drink hits the spot that bit quicker.
In the end it took penalties, and it’s a lottery, you know. Except it didn’t look like that. North End hit five perfect penalties, and Pike ‘keeper Gary Neville came close to none of them. What did John Godkin’s side do in their last session before this game? They practiced penalties.
Yes, of course, nerve, bottle and mentality come into a penalty shoot-out. Five kicks, Paul ‘Spot’ Murphy, Paul Murphy, Kyle Dempsey, Adam Beary and finally Gary Delaney - the five biggest moments of their sporting lives.
Every penalty was as good as the one before, as good as the one that came after. Maybe embracing destiny brings a serenity that fed into the North End psyche, as not one of the five looked like missing, not one of them seemed anything other than steely focused.
And what about Lee Walker? People talk of it being a free run for goalkeepers, that they have nothing to lose, that they aren’t really expected to save a penalty so it’s so much easier for them.
Don’t tell the goalkeeper he shouldn’t expect to save one. This is the moment these lads live for, on a hiding to nothing as the last line of defence, and you can bet Walker expected to save a spot-kick and save Colin Daly’s he did.
The Pike attacker went low to his left, Walker’s right. He guessed the correct way - which he did on two of the five kicks and made the stop. It was the only chance either ‘keeper had of making a save and Walker pulled it off.
At that stage, with the two Paul Murphys already successful, it was 2-2. Kyle Dempsey went low to his right, sending Gary Neville the wrong way.
Shane Walsh made it 3-3 but Adam Beary’s effort proved too powerful for the Pike stopper to get anywhere near moments later.
Patrick Mullins blasted it high down the centre to put all the pressure on the final North End kicker. Ordinarily, the responsibility would have fallen to Jay Murphy to take the fifth but, with the striker off the field, newest recruit Gary Delaney stepped up to the plate.
The former Wexford Youths and Waterford F.C. clubman was coolness personified. He fired it low to his left to set off raucous celebrations on the field, on the sideline and amongst the boisterous travelling Sky Blues support.
The win was the culmination of years of work from hundreds of people, but at the end of the day it came down to 15 players who took to the field. Every single one of them contributed and one would be foolhardy to argue with the choice of captain Paul Murphy as man of the match.
However, the back four of North End was magnificent. The aberration of allowing Colin Daly to run at them untouched for the equaliser aside - and the midfield could take the bulk of the responsibility for that - they didn’t put a foot wrong.
You know what you get from Delaney and Decky Downes at this stage, but maybe the best of the quartet was Dale Flynn. He was solid at left-back but magnificent when he was switched to the centre after Downes’ injury.
The first-half was near perfect for North End. They controlled the game completely, played it at their pace and had the lion’s share of the ball. They didn’t create a string of clearcut chances but they had more than enough opportunities to warrant an interval lead.
It was a game of inches early on as both Paul Murphy and Robin Dempsey missed vital touches that might have produced an opener. Jay Murphy then got brother ‘Spot’ away on the right but the attempted