Stars shine through in thriller

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

A JOE McLaughlin screamer in extra-time was enough to settle an epic encounter that had pulses racing to see Windmill Stars lift the Willy Malley Cup on Saturday after a 3-2 victory.
In a game that had everything, thrills, spills, controversy and drama, Windmill finally prevailed after two hours of football that at times resembled a late-night bar-room brawl.
After Newington's Damian Mannings early trip to the sin-bin in the 35th minute, victory seemed a formality for Windmill as Ruari Cunningham slotted home a penalty with calm and poise to settle the nerves of the faithful, and send the home side into the interval with their tails up.
However, like the charge of the light brigade, Newington came racing out of the blocks quickest in the second half and were rewarded for their pace, penetration and probing with a Gary Brannigan equaliser in the 53rd minute.
Suddenly, it was game on and Windmill, once the epitome of calm, were all at sea as they attempted to halt a Newington bad moon rising. With their stoic defence of Devine, Adams and McErlane cutting off the supply-line to Windmill's Josh McKeown, it looked like Newington had done their homework and were staring to forage about the Windmill half and now inflicting insidious paper-cuts of their own.
At this point the danger signs were being presented to the home side in abundance and, barring a black cat walking under a ladder in a Newington shirt, they couldn't have been more obvious.
Indeed, Windmilll were caught cat-napping as the danger man Brannigan struck in the 70th minute, with the no9's clinical finish seemingly putting one hand on the trophy for Newington.
At this point, an injection of pace was needed, and the introduction of pacy winger Ruari Devlin provided The Stars with an impetus and guile that their second-half had lacked.
With Newington looking to strangle the life from the game and wind down the clock, Windmill had no option but to throw caution to the wind and go for broke.
As the game entered the final ten minutes, Newington looked to be clinging on to the victory as the Windmill torrent wasn't bearing any fruit.
Yet Joe McLaughlin was now finding his lines, and became a dynamo in the centre of the park, his tenacity and high tempo utilising their extra man and tiring weary Newington legs.
Then the breakthrough finally came, when McLaughlin broke down the by-line by beating his man and whipped an inch-perfect cross only to find the rampant Cunningham, who rammed the ball into the bottom corner, leaving a despondent Dean Smyth to look on longingly as the ball blazed past him.
So, as we headed to extra-time and with the momentum firmly in the home side's favour, the question on everyone's lips was whether Windmill had fatally punctured Newington's resolve?
With neither side wanting to over-commit and leave themselves exposed at the back, the first half of extra-time looked to be petering out without incident until, after a goal-mouth scramble on the brink of the changeover, the ball bounced outside the box to Joe McLaughlin who chipped the keeper from 25 yards, with a sublime finish that only a man on fire would have the audacity to attempt.
The second half kicked-off and by now The Stars were in the ascendancy, their assured grip on the game not being broken by an ugly melee after a horror tackle on John-Joe Maguire that somehow didn't warrant a dismissal.
Tempers flared and by this stage anarchy was on the brink of ensuing.
Once the storm has passed, target-man Josh McKeown had a chance to conclusively finish the tie when he went one-on-one with the goalkeeper, who produced cat-like reflexes to turn the ball round the post and foil McKeown.
At this stage the referee blew the whistle, and last year's all-conquering Windmill side rejoiced in the knowledge that the cup was theirs.
Mission accomplished, but at the cost of copious palpitations to the Windmill fans in Jennings park.
Windmill Stars: Paddy Hearty, Barry Quinn(Martin Keenan 74'), Ruari Cunningham, Chris Havern, Conor McKeown, Paul O'Gorman, John Joe Maguire, Joe McLaughlin, Josh McKeown, Ryan Devlin, Gareth White(Ruari Devlin 80') Subs: Adam Higgins, Chrissy Ruddy, Martin Keenan, Steven Loughran, Ruari Devlin.
Newington: Dean Smyth, Dee McErlane, Damian Manning, Nial Devine, Sean Adams, Kevin O'Neill, Sean McAuley,
Ronan Brannigan, Gary Rafferty, Joe Finlay Subs: Jim McMenamin, Thomas Duffy, Taylor Smith

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