Slane takes the reins as St Malachy’s go the extra mile
IF you want something done properly, you’re just as well doing it yourself.
That was the attitude of St Malachy’s hero Padraig Slane in his side’s Danske Bank Schools’ Cup victory at Seaview yesterday.
The Cliftonville winger put in a man of the match performance as he set up both of his Reds teammate Paul Scullion’s goals and netted himself to secure a 3-1 extra-time victory over Belfast rivals De La Salle.
In a game dominated almost from start to finish by the eventual winners, they were forced into extra-time by Conal McDonald’s first-half equaliser.
Even when De La Salle went down to 10 men before the end of normal time thanks to the dismissal of Ronan Hamill — another Cliftonville player — his team-mates held out until the second period of extra-time, largely thanks to inspirational defender Pearse Smyth.
However, after St Malachy’s had missed a spate of chances laid on by Slane (above), he took matters into his own hands by rounding goalkeeper Conor Murphy and slotting home the long-awaited goal before laying a clincher on a plate.
“We thought it wasn’t our day with the amount of chances we missed but we kept going and
going with our team spirit and we got the goals in the end,” said Slane.
“I just knocked the ball round the keeper and you don’t want to know what was going through my head. I thought I was going to put it wide but luckily enough it went in.
“It’s not about me scoring the goal, it’s a team effort. We’re one as a unit. We’ve won the Belfast Cup a few times but never the Northern Ireland Cup. We always wanted it and now we’re over the moon.”
St Malachy’s superiority was evident during the first-half, when Slane’s pinpoint passing threatened to pick holes in the De La Salle back line.
It did just that four minutes before the break as the winger seized on Niall McDaid’s pass down the left wing to curl a cross on to the boot of Scullion, who did the rest with a cool finish below onrushing goalkeeper Murphy.
Fast forward five minutes and St Malachy’s were puffing out their cheeks in relief, grateful to be going in on level terms.
McDonald had found the equaliser in injury-time, blasting home an unstoppable effort after finding an inch of space in the box.
And from the restart, his side went straight on the offensive, Donal Rocks’ header across goal almost bundled home by Aodhan Mulligan at the back post.
After a much-needed break to regain composure, St Malachy’s reduced large swathes of the second half to shooting exercises, although Murphy was equal to anything they could throw at him.
It was during that spell that Slane laid on big chances for Aidan McGeown, Scullion and captain Paddy Burns but Murphy denied them all.
Burns’ late opportunity came just after De La Salle were reduced to 10 men, Hamill given a straight red for clashing with Mark Donnelly in retaliation for a late challenge, giving the referee his easiest decision of the day.
As they had done in the first half, De La Salle caused a late scare when Rocks played in Sean McCullough only for Brian Rogers to rush out and making a crucial one-on-one stop.
His save, Slane’s performance and St Malachy’s dominance were all rewarded late on when the best player on the park seized on a defensive error and jinked past Murphy to convert.
And the win was secured two minutes later when that man Slane delivered another telling cross for Scullion to slam home.
“It’s the best feeling in the world,” said St Malachy’s skipper Burns (below, with Danske Bank’s Aishling Press).
“As captain of the team and as Head Boy of the school, it’s my proudest moment, my greatest honour and it’s all down to my team-mates and the coaching staff.
“Right from the start, very few people believed in us but we believed in ourselves and that was the key.
“We’ve produced big results along the way and today we knew it was going to be a test.
“To win it with a group of guys that I’ve been mates with for seven years is the best ever feeling I’ve experienced.”
Out in front: Padraig Slane is mobbed after putting St Malachy’s 2-1 ahead in extra-time
Equal footing: Conor McDonald draws De La Salle level