WINNERS TAKE IT ALL From left to right: Castlebar Celtic’s Michéal Jennings, Paul Curry, Gary Price, James Minogue, Kevin Curry, Neil Douglas, Aidan Walsh, Ioseph O’Reilly and Peter Dravins celebrate.
Celtic crowned champions
Castlebar Celtic 2
Price 15, Fitzgerald 33
Everton (Cork) 1
IT wasn’t as comfortable as it should have been but the end result is what matters – Castlebar Celtic are the FAI Youth Cup champions.
That accolade means an awful lot to those involved in the club, both in the past and at present. It’s the club’s first ever national title after all. It means a lot to family and friends but, most importantly, it means everything to the Celtic squad and management.
Their attitude in this game, as in practically every game they’ve played this season, was of a team who wanted to win. Really, really wanted to win.
From the get-go Celtic were the more physical, quicker team, the team with more all round quality. They were, by some distance, the best team.
That only one goal separated the sides at the finish tells something of a lie about this contest. Celtic should have been out of sight. They failed to score in the second half despite creating plenty of chances.
That can often happen but, with Everton only one Celtic mistake away from drawing in the final half hour, Celtic ensured that if they could not score at one end, they certainly weren’t going to concede at the other.
The ten man Cork outfit (who had lost Alan Murphy to two yellow cards on 66 minutes) didn’t manage to create one more meaningful chance. It wasn’t last-gasp defending. Celtic made sure it didn’t come to that.
In truth the only panic came after the final whistle. Celtic’s last defensive duty was to deal with a free-kick from inside the Everton half. Jonathan O’Connor sent it goalwards. Josh Tierney came through a sea of bodies to bravely attempt to punch clear. Celtic cleared the loose ball and the final whistle sounded.
Cue bedlam at Milebush. However, Tierney was still on the ground from the impact. He would be ok eventually but when the final whistle sounded he was out cold. Not the finish he would have dreamt about but the FAI Cup winner’s medal is decent comfort.
It is one thing having the skill – and Celtic were superior in this facet – but in a game as big as Sunday’s nerves and the occasion can get to you.
Celtic seemed to push such trivialities to one side and flew from the blocks. Pat Fitzgerald and Aidan Walsh quickly established dominance in midfield and Celtic looked relaxed.
Gary Price had a shot on goal inside 150 seconds and Shane Hynes had free-kicks in dangerous positions. His first two crossed balls were poorly struck but the third had ‘keeper Darren Haines struggle to keep the ball out of the top corner.
With his fourth dead ball came the opener. Aidan Walsh was fouled by Adrian Conlon 35 metres out. The big Everton number eight was detained by the referee momentarily for dissent so his physical presence was absent from the defence of the free-kick. It’s hard to know if it would have mattered because Hynes’s left foot effort was a striker’s dream and Gary Price rose to superbly head the ball into the top-corner from 15 yards.
It was the ideal tonic and Celtic had no intention of leaving it at that. They were in utter control in defence and yet they still didn’t choose to lie back. Half chances were created and Pat Fitzgerald worked himself into a good shooting position on 29 minutes only for Haines to save.
The big ‘keeper could do nothing about Fitzgerald’s next effort though. Picking the ball up 40 yards from goal the Celtic midfielder used Celtic runners to draw defenders away from him and attacked down the centre of the Everton defence. From 20 yards Fitzgerald unleashed a sensational left footed drive into the top right hand corner of the net.
Celtic were well on their way. A long ball from Minogue nearly undid Everton while they could not live with Shane Hynes in the second quarter of the game and Celtic wouldn’t have been flattered by a 3-0 lead at the break.
Paul Curry tried a glancing volley inside a minute of the second half but couldn’t keep it down and after this Everton upped it. Still their goal didn’t come from any real concerted pressure, rather an isolated bit of indecisiveness in the Celtic defence.
The lively Alan Murphy got the ball in the box and after Celtic failed to clear, he drove the ball across goal where David Daly had a simple tap-in at the back post.
It could have been panic stations but Celtic immediately increased the tempo. Aidan Walsh was denied by Haines and Celtic were back on top by the time Alan Murphy was sent off on 66 minutes for a late if fairly innocuous foul on Fitzgerald.
From then on Celtic looked the more likely to score. Substitute Neil Douglas was unlucky on a couple of occasions while Shane Hynes really should have scored when a wonderful move starting with Josh Tierney and involving Niall Walsh, Douglas and Fitzgerald put Hynes in but he shot over.
You knew if Everton were to level it would require an element of luck. They nearly got it when a free from Jonathan O’Connor deflected into the path of Darren Roache. However, he failed to get the crucial touch.
Four minutes into injury-time Tierney came out to punch clear. With the eventual clearance came the final whistle. That late incident summed Celtic up. Tierney was willing to put his body on the line.
Celtic would not be denied.
J Tierney; N Walsh, G McDonagh, J Minogue, G O’Boyle; I O’Reilly, P Fitzgerald, A Walsh, S Hynes; P Curry, G Price. Subs: N Douglas for Curry (60mins); P Dravins for Price (84mins).
D Haines; W Cotter, J O’Connor, Anthony Murphy, P O’Riordan; D Daly, J Crean, A Conlon, Alan Murphy; D O’Leary, J Cairns. Subs: I O’Brien for O’Leary (73mins); D Roache for Conlon (81mins).
Referee: E Deering (Roscommon).