PIKE ROVERS (Limerick) 2
ST. MICHAEL’S 1
It was heartbreak yet again for St. Michael’s of Tipperary town in the final of the Umbro-sponsored FAI Junior Cup, as a goal right on the stroke of full-time proved decisive, ending a 73-year wait for Limerick’s Pike Rovers at Turner’s Cross, Cork last Sunday.
St. Michael’s went into this, their fourth final in the past decade, seeking only their second FAI Junior Cup in 37 years. However the Munster Junior Cup holders failed to stamp their authority on a game that saw them coming from behind to level in the opening half, but they then threw it all away to a last minute free-kick.
This was never going to be a repeat of the Munster Junior Cup semi-final when Saints put five past the same opposition in Limerick. It was a much-changed Pike Rovers side, with the strong wind at their backs, that created the early chances. In the opening minutes former Saints striker Alan Barry was inches off target with a header from a John Tierney centre. Saints winger Jimmy Carr, who missed last season’s decider through illness, beat his marker but his pin-point cross was just too high for John Connery. Carr then set up Richie Ryan, whose low shot had Gary Neville scampering across his goal as the ball skimmed the butt of the post.
Pike Rovers got the breakthrough after 20 minutes when Saints goalie Derek Breen failed to hold onto John Tierney’s free kick in a goalmouth scramble and Alan Barry was on hand to bundle it over the line from less than two yards out.
St. Michael’s responded with good work between Jimmy Carr and Pa Quinn, who knocked the ball into the path of Richie Ryan as he broke at pace into the Rovers penalty area but his final touch was too heavy, allowing ‘keeper Gary Neville time to smother the ball. As the play swung from end to end Saints’ Paul Breen, who was doubtful prior to the game because of a virus, got across to make an excellent sliding tackle on Pat Moloney as he was about to pull the trigger.
Five minutes before the break St. Michael’s were back on level terms. The over-lapping Chris Higgins linked up with Jimmy Carr to force a corner kick. Jimmy Carr’s short set-piece back to Chris Higgins saw him deliver the ball to the back post and John Connery neatly cushioned his header back into the path of the unmarked Pat Quinn, who had the simple task of heading home from 3 yards.
Rovers finished the half stronger and were unlucky not to restore their lead. A free-kick from Eoin Hanrahan saw Alan Barry’s header cleared off the line by Paul Breen for a corner kick and from the set-piece Paul Breen was again in the right place to clear a John Tierney in-swinger from under the crossbar for yet another corner. From the set-piece ‘keeper Derek Breen got gloves to the ball and as it was eventually cleared to safety the half-time whistle sounded to the relief of the St. Michael’s supporters, who made up the largest portion of the fine-sized attendance.
With the score at the break standing at 1-1, Rovers’ David Ryan replaced the injured Pat Moloney. St. Michael’s, with the wind in their sails, started the second half well on top. A good break down the left between Chris Higgins and Jimmy Carr saw Carr set up Richie Ryan, whose shot from 20 yards was straight into the midriff of a grateful Pike goalie. Minutes later, on the opposite flank, Pat Quinn slipped the ball through to Richie Ryan, but he dragged his shot across the face of the goal with just the Rovers’ ‘keeper to beat. Pike were relying on the counter attack and from a Keith Hartnett free kick Colm Enright headed over, as the hour mark was reached.
St. Michael’s were continuing to enjoy the upper hand, but with Rovers quickly closing down the options the Tipp side’s final pass often went astray, allowing the Limerick side off the hook to create a number of half chances. These resulted mainly in placed balls and ‘keeper Derek Breen did well to push a Keith Hartnett free kick over the crossbar, with Chris Higgins getting in a crucial tackle and clearing the resultant corner.
After 70 minutes St. Michael’s manager John Cremins sprung Padraic Fogarty and Shane Guerin from the bench and 7 minutes later Rovers’ supporters had a heart-stopping moment. Fogarty pushed the ball into the path of Guerin, who chased after a lost cause and as Pike’s custodian Gary Neville raced off his line he inadvertently stood on the ball as he tried to clear. But before Guerin could recover and punish the error Colm Enright got back to snuff out the danger. Saints’ Paul Tobin then sent a free kick just over the crossbar as the final ten minutes was reached.
In what was a very nervy conclusion to this national showpiece, St. Michael’s came close with Neville between doing well to cover a long- range effort from Shane Guerin. With three minutes left the St. Michael’s players and supporters missed a heartbeat when a shot along the deck by David Ryan slipped through Derek Breen’s hands but trickled off the foot of the goalpost and wide.
Then, with the fourth official’s board showing an additional four minutes of stoppage time, disaster struck. With another St. Michael’s attack breaking down Rovers turned defence into attack, forcing the Tipp town side to give away a direct free-kick 20 yards from goal. Keith Hartnett’s low struck shot the ball beat the wall and went in under the body of a diving Derek Breen to the delight of the Limerick supporters who ran onto the pitch. With order restored and play resumed St. Michael’s, although shell-shocked, created the final chance when a free kick from Paul Tobin ricocheted around a crowded Rovers area, with a James Walsh header blocked and breaking to Richie Ryan, whose effort was also blocked with the ball landing back at the feet of Walsh, who was under pressure as his shot sailed over the crossbar, and with it went St. Michael’s hopes of FAI Cup glory for yet another year.
Overall it wasn’t a classic encounter, with the blustery conditions destroying this showpiece as a spectacle. It started at 100 miles an hour but before the final whistle sounded both sets of players had given every ounce of blood, sweat and tears for the cause. There was a number of goalmouth thrills, with Rovers the more dominant force in the opening 45 minutes and St. Michael’s shading it after the break. St. Michael’s were more comfortable on the ball but too often took the wrong option, while Rovers used the more direct approach, relying on the breaking ball to create attacks.
While it was nice to see Man of the Match Keith Hartnett collect the cup and end a 73 year famine for the jubilant Pike Rovers, spare a thought for St. Michael’s trio James Walsh, Paul Tobin and Sean O’Halloran, who have now tasted the bitter pill of defeat in an FAI Junior Cup Final on four occasions - in 2000, 2002, 2010 and 2011.
Pike Rovers: Gary Neville, Wayne Colbert, Brian Cleary, Patrick Mullins, Colm Enright, Keith Hartnett, Conor Kavanagh, Pat Moloney, Alan Barry, Eoin Hanrahan, John Tierney. Substitute - David Ryan for Moloney (injured, half time).
St. Michael’s: Derek Breen, Paul Tobin, Chris Higgins, Paul Breen, James Walsh, Trevor Cosgrave, Jimmy Carr, Thomas Fahey, Pat Quinn, Richard Ryan, John Connery. Substitutes - Padraic Fogarty for Connery (70 minutes), Shane Guerin for Quinn (70 minutes), Danny O’Brien for P. Breen (90 minutes).
Referee: Ian Bradley (Dublin).