(After Extra Time)
Heatmerchants won 5-4 on penalties
WESTPORT United’s long wait for Connacht Cup glory will last at least another year after this shock exit from the competition at the hands of Heatmerchants in Athlone on Sunday afternoon.
Quite how United lost this game is difficult to explain as the winners had just one shot on target for the entire afternoon. But despite the near monopoly of possession, the visitors just couldn’t find the ruthless streak in front of goal that would have put the game to bed long before the final whistle.
As it was, United fell behind with fifteen minutes to play and there were just three minutes left when debutant, James Fahy, curled a lovely left-footed shot past Christoper Doran in the Heatmerchants goal to send the game into extra-time.
The trend of the game continued in extra-time and United dominated but their misfortune was best summed up when with the last act of the game, a Vinny O’Malley header, bounced off the crossbar when it looked goalbound.
Given the manner that Lady Luck had shone on them throughout the ninety minutes, it was no surprise that Heatmerchants emerged victorious from the shoot-out. Once Doran saved Joe Kelly’s well-struck first penalty kick, the pressure was on United and though James Fahy, Colin Navin, Peter Burke and Alan Mulchrone all scored, Heatmerchants went through after their five kicks were successfully converted.
This was a game that United will long wonder how they left it behind them. Maybe it was complacency or maybe it was just one of those days but the reality is that it should have been won.
Heatmerchants, on last Sunday’s performance, were very average and a team with ambitions of winning the competition, such as United, should have put them away with some ease.
Maybe the writing was on the wall from an early stage when United were creating openings but ultimately failing to take them. David Hoban, Vinny O’Malley, Dessie O’Malley, Paul Fitzpatrick and Brian Kennedy all went close in the opening half and Peter Burke, making his debut after signing from Ballyheane, had a header from a Dessie O’Malley corner that went inches wide.
Heatmerhants’ forays into United’s half were sporadic and uninspiring and the closest they came was when David Donoghue shot over when in a good position.
Otherwise, it was all Westport but the home goal lived a charmed life. The second half was all one-way traffic but still the defence stood firm. Brian Fahy, on for the injured Dessie O’Malley at half-time, had an immediate impact and he had two goalbound shots saved.
Vinny O’Malley went close and Doran somehow denied David Hoban when a goal looked certain. The last thing anyone expected was a goal from the home team but fifteen minutes from time, United switched off and allowed Mark Rigney time to pick out Colm Hyland and his angled shot gave Martin McGreal no chance.
For the first and only time in the game, Heatmerchants got up a head of steam and actually took the game to United for a while. But the clearer openings were still being created by the favourites and it took substitute James Fahy, on for his first appearance for the first team, who rescued the game with a left-footed effort after being set up by player/manager, Brendan O’Connor.
Extra-time followed and still United poured forward. Paul Fitzpatrick nearly scored his first goal for the club but his right-footed free landed inches wide and then with the game nearly over, Vinny O’Malley beat the ‘keeper with his header but the crossbar intervened. It was that type of afternoon and one that all associated with Westport United will want to erase from the memory as quickly as possible.
M McGreal; C Navin, A Mulchrone, B O’Connor, A O’Malley; P Fitzpatrick, B Kennedy, P Burke, D O’Malley; V O’Malley, D Hoban. Subs: B Fahy for D O’Malley (inj); J Kelly for Kennedy; J Fahy for D Hoban.
C Doran; J Murray, G Gaffney, P Sammon, M McLoughlin; M Rigney, P Allen, Serge, A Hyland; D Donoghue, C Hyland.
Ref: M Lynch