Armagh City 0-2 Dollingstown
Dollingstown went into Monday’s Bob Radcliffe Cup final against Armagh City as underdogs – and emerged from it victorious. Deservedly so, it has to be said.
Despite the fact that they had already beaten them twice this season and also went in this belated ‘Boxing Day’ showdown as Bob Radcliffe Cup holders, City never really lived up to their billing as pre-match favourites.
Yes, they scored 10 out of 10 for guts and effort as well as for commitment and determination. But they fell far short of that maximum when it came to creativity and opportunism. That being the case, the score a fair enough reflection of the match.
With an expectant crowd - which was considerably bigger than what would normally be the case for a Loughgall game in the Lough 41 Championship at the same venue - the morning fog lifted just in time for the teams taking to the pitch, lead out by three match officials kitted out in bright yellow attire that it was almost dazzling. Fog or not, their visibility was never going to be in any doubt!
With the holders’ and favourites’ tags in their favour, City opened like a team intent on adding to their previous two victories over these same opponents. Two corners either side of a long throw-in followed several minutes of sustained pressure saw City with their tails up and Dollingstown defending for their lives.
It was a very promising start by Shea Campbell’s men – but, crucially, it yielded no reward. And when the underdogs emerged intact having been under the cosh for the opening five minutes, they sounded a warning through Daniel Gordon who did well in cleverly evading three opponents before giving City ‘keeper Conner Byrne his first taste of Bob Radcliffe Cup final ’21 action. Byrne made the save comfortably enough, but Dollingstown had shown that they were not just there to make up the numbers.
It was fast, it was hard and it was uncompromising - certainly no place for the faint-hearted or the weary-limbed. There is history between this pair, with City having finished with nine men in their Planters’ Park win and Dollingstown with 10 at Holm Park earlier in the season.
Even so, there were so very good moments of football, with City captain Conor Mullen – a hat-trick hero in last season’s 4-3 Radcliffe Cup final win against Rathfriland Rangers on the same pitch – constantly testing the Dollingstown rearguard by virtue of his immense physical strength and mental toughness, Stefan Lavery catching the eye with his clever flicks on and perfectly judged round-the-corner touches, Neil Kerr showing moments of real skill and confidence and Marc McConnell’s always-clever footwork enabling him to slalom his way into, through and out of seemingly impossibly tight situations.
But in central defender Conor McCaul, Dollingstown had arguably the most influential player on the park. The timing of his tackles was perfect – and at moments it had to be – his blocks were courage personified, his positional sense was immaculate and his aerial ability was unquestionable. Quite why and how ‘keeper Gareth Buchanan pipped him to the Man of the Match award is anybody’s guess, but decisions of such matters are part and parcel of watching football.
The loss, through injury, of Lavery just before the half-hour was a blow, though his replacement, Shea Geraghty, slotted in instantly and certainly did not let anyone down, albeit that he does not possess the same deftness of touch as the man from whom he took over.
And shortly after Lavery’s departure, Dollingstown grabbed the all-important opening goal of what, up to that stage, had been a hard-fought encounter with little to choose between the protagonists. It was scored by Gary Liggett when, following a corner from the right by the impressive Oisin Barr, City failed to clear the ball from their congested box, allowing the experienced striker to pounce and beat Byrne with a well-struck, hard, low drive – 1-0.
Straight from the restart, City ought to have equalised when, with Dollingstown’s players still seemingly in celebratory mood, the normally lethal Mullen found himself one-on-one with Buchanan. But the striker didn’t get quite enough on his shot, in contrast to which the ‘keeper managed to get just enough to further rob it of sufficient power to take it over the line, as a resukt of which the danger was cleared. It really should have been 1-1.
Instead that Liggett goal separated the sides at half-time and as the players and their coaching entourages made the way to their respective dressing rooms, it was noticeable that City manager Campbell was engrossed in animated conversation with central defender Paidraig Judge, presumably over what had gone wrong minutes earlier.
The second period – by which stage the fog had returned - was a case of long periods of City possession interspersed by always-threatening Dollingstown breaks. And as the minutes ticked away, City’s position became more and more precarious. Left with no other real option, they pushed more and more men forward. And ultimately, in the latter stages, they paid the price when, from mid-way inside his own half, ‘keeper Byrne tried to launch a long ball towards the Dollingstown penalty area. It never reached its target, Instead it was cut out and cleared to Marc McCabe who kept his cool and, with Byrne trying frantically to get back, calmly beat him.
Game, set, match and Bob Radcliffe Cup to Dollingstown.
ARMAGH CITY: 1. Conner Byrne, 3. Shea Geraghty, 4. Jason King, 5. Paidraig Judge, 7. Andrew Wilson, 8. Neil Kerr, 9. Conor Mullen (captain), 10. Ryan Corrigan, 11. Ruari Duffy, 13, Jack Clarke, 14. Adam Wright, 15 Stefan Lavery, 15. Jonny Carlin, 18. Marc McConnell, 19. Ross Lavery, 22. Dermot McCaffery.
DOLLINGSTOWN: 1. Gareth Buchanan, 2. Jake Redpath (captain), 3. Nathan McConnell, 4. Patrick Mooney, 5. Conor McCaul, 22. Oisin Barr 18. Glenn Hand, 8. David McCullough, 14. Daniel Gordon, 9. Gary Liggett, 11. Mark McCabe. Substitutes: Elliott Rea, Adam Dennison, Adam Patterson, Keith Johnston, Jonny Ewart.
REFEREE: Neil McArdle.
Pictures by Maynard Collins