SOCCER: O’NEILLS POLIKOFF CUP FINAL
Heartbreak for Willow Park as Collinstown pounce for winner in extra time
THERE was heartbreak for Willow Park FC at the UCD Bowl on Friday evening, when an extra-time goal from Daniel Matthews ensured that Collinstown FC claimed the Polikoff Cup in dramatic fashion.
A brace of first-half goals by Kevin Murray put Willow in the driving seat, and left them just moments away from securing the silverware on offer. However, after a 89th-minute goal by Collinstown substitute Dylan McKeever brought the game into two additional periods of extra-time, Matthews’ long-distance drive proved to be the difference between the teams.
Willow’s journey in this competition began last October when they got the better of county rivals Mullingar Athletic in a first-round encounter. Subsequent victories over Cabinteely, Newlands/Castle Park and St Kevin’s Boys set-up a semi-final date with Blessington – and the Kilmacuagh Avenue men stepped up to the plate to claim a 1-0 win.
This ensured that Willow were in a confident mood ahead of their trip to Belfield, and with just over two minutes gone on the clock, they broke the deadlock in devastating fashion. After he was released on the right-flank, lone striker Brendan Magennis picked out Murray inside the area, and the tricky winger settled himself for a calm finish past the helpless Ross Costigan.
This was a dream start for Willow, and although a close-range shot by Collinstown striker Graham Doyle was deflected into the grateful arms of Cain Brereton, they were causing a host of problems for their Metropolitan counterparts.
Glen Byrne was exerting a significant influence on the game, and with Collinstown struggling to settle into a consistent attacking rhythm, they were aiming to double their advantage. A deft pass by Magennis put Murray through on goal just past the half-hour mark, but before he could test the resolve of Costigan, Collinstown centre-half Luke Fitzpatrick got back to execute a crucial interception.
Indeed, Fitzpatrick would soon make a big impact at the opposite end of the field, as the south Dubliners eventually restored parity. His looping flick-on in the 36th-minute hit the crossbar, but from a Dean Carpenter corner on the right, he headed powerfully beyond the reach of Brereton.
This appeared to be a set-back for Willow so close to the break, but there was enough time for Murray to once again place a dent in Collinstown’s quest for glory. A Magennis delivery was headed into the danger zone by skipper Mark Nicholson, and the pacy number seven was on cue to apply the finishing touch.
Momentum was now with Willow heading into the second period, and after he chased down a direct ball into the Collinstown half on the resumption, Magennis forced another fine stop from Costigan.
Willow were playing with real authority, but a narrow miss by Mark O’Neill – as he turned inside the area on 49 minutes – was an indication of the attacking threat that Collinstown still possessed. Yet, despite gaining a fair share of possession as the half wore on, they found that clear-cut opportunities were hard to come by against this determined Willow line-up.
Gerrard Shortt headed wide from another Sherlock free-kick, but with the fresh legs of Aaron O’Neill and Brian Malone entering the fray, Willow remained in the ascendancy heading towards the final stages.
Unfortunately for the Athlone side, Collinstown had their own impact substitute in the form of McKeever, and nine minutes after his introduction, he cancelled out Willow’s lead for a second time. A delivery into the box by O’Neill was inch-perfect, and the alert McKeever diverted it past Brereton with an outstretched foot.
This was a massive blow to Willow so close to the final whistle, but they would enter additional time with a numerical advantage at their disposal. Collinstown right-back Kenneth Flood was dismissed for a second yellow-card offence, and this meant they had to make further readjustments to their formation.
Yet, even though Brian Caldwell was added to the mix instead of Byrne, Willow were left to chase the game when Matthews found the bottom right-hand corner of the net with a firm right-footed shot.
Brereton later produced an excellent save from Darren Clarke and a superb piece of defending from Peter Sherlock to deny Clarke as he bore down on goal ensured they were in the reckoning as the second period of extra-time drew to a close. But Willow ultimately came up just short at the end of a committed performance in the capital.
WILLOW PARK: Cain Brereton; Damian Rushe, Eoin Fox, Robert Shine, Peter Sherlock; Kevin Murray (Brian Fogarty 86), Garry McHugh, Mark Nicholson, Kieran McNally (Aaron O’Neill 67); Glen Byrne (Brian Cauldwell 95); Brendan Magennis (Brian Malone 78).
COLLINSTOWN FC: Ross Costigan; Kenneth Flood, Matthew Cullen (Christopher Barbour 74), Luke Fitzpatrick, Dean Carpenter; Ian McNeill, Daniel Matthews (Phillip Yourell 104), Mark O’Neill, Darren Clarke (Anthony McCormack 109); Graham Doyle (Michael Griffin 59), Gerrard Shortt (Dylan McKeever 80).
Referee: Ciaran Redmond.