Friday night's lights for Bessbrook Cup finale

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Friday night's lights for Bessbrook Cup finale thumbnailBessbrook manager Gareth Hughes and Cleary Celtic manager Chris Murphy are expecting a tough final at Newry Showgrounds on Friday

THE stage is set for a thrilling conclusion to this season's Kehoe Kars Bessbrook Cup, between two teams bang in form - Bessbrook United and Cleary Celtic.

The match had originally been due to take place on December 29, at the Showgrounds. However, due to heavy rain the pitch was declared unplayable and consequently the game was postponed. But following discussions between the Carnbane League and Newry City AFC, it has been agreed that the game will now take place this Friday, with a kick off time of 7:30pm.

The last time Cleary and Bessbrook met in the final of the competition was in 2011/12, with the 'Brook coming out on top that day, defeating the Hoops on penalties.

It would perhaps be fitting too if the Model Villagers were to go all the way in this landmark fiftieth year of the coveted competition, as their predecessors, Bessbrook Products FC, were winners of the inaugural Bessbrook Cup way back in 1968/69, defeating Carnbane Rangers in the decider.

Cleary and Bessbrook have met once already this season, back in September, when the 'Brook came up trumps, beating Cleary 2-0. But the Celts were missing several key men that day, including goal scorer supreme Neil Barr, so it would be unfair to read too much into that result.

Both teams have a rich history in the competition and know exactly what it takes to win. Cleary have won the Cup three times from five finals, the last of which was a penalty shootout victory against Newry Celtic in 2015/16.

Cleary manager Chris Murphy, who took over the reins of the club from long serving manager Derek McDermott at the end of last season, would undoubtedly love to kick off his short tenure of the club with a trophy, but the Cleary tactician isn't underestimating how tough of a test it will be in the final.

"In my eyes it's a 50/50 game; the 'Brook are a good side, they're the only team to beat us this year in the league. Gareth [Hughes] and Ben [Treanor] know their stuff, they've won everything for Bessbrook and they have them well drilled," Murphy said.

"They enjoyed good runs in the Mid Ulster Shield and the Junior Cup, they've made it to this final and they'll be there or thereabouts in the league at the business end of the season, so it's going to be a tight final. Whoever performs to their potential on the day will win it."

As a player, Murphy was a prolific goal scorer in the Carnbane League with Legal Athletic in the late 1990s and also enjoyed a spell in the Irish League with Newry Town.

He is relishing his role at the helm of Cleary and says his squad have been working hard in preparation for the big match.

"Our boys are putting in great effort at training. I'm really fortunate to have such a good bunch of lads at Cleary. Whenever we're on our game we're a good side to watch, and the boys are all enjoying it, they're all pulling the same way, which is all you can ask of them."

"All the new lads have settled in really well too, Barso [Neil Barr] has been a big signing for us. The only game we haven't scored in this year was the defeat to Bessbrook, which is the only game he missed for us - which tells you all you need to know. Noel McCoy is another great signing too. He goes under the radar, but he's a player I can't speak highly enough of, a real footballer and very clever. Of course you have Cathal [O'Reilly] coming in there as well. Those three boys have helped really boost the club that went so close to the league title last year."

Meanwhile Bessbrook have also welcomed a new manager on board this season. Long serving 'Brook player Gareth Hughes agreed to take over the managerial hot seat at the beginning of the campaign while he was recovering from a long term injury, replacing the outgoing Thomas King.

The 'Brook native has played the entirety of his career with Bessbrook United, bar a brief stint at Newry City AFC in 2013. Hughes is one of the most decorated players in local football, having enjoyed enormous success with the Model Villager's over the last 15 years.

In recent seasons Bessbrook have failed to set the world alight though, with Hughes citing commitment issues from players as a major factor in their demise. But since his managerial appointment, Hughes has helped instil a renewed sense of belief within the club, which has translated into results on the pitch.

The Bessbrook Cup has been the competition where they have shone the most this season though, having defeated three top Premier Division sides in Killeavy United, Millburn United and Villa Rovers, to reach the final. And Hughes believes another win against Cleary in the decider could act as a catalyst for future success.

"From what I have seen this past couple of years I don't think the boys' hearts were in it. They weren't training, whereas this season they're giving us two nights training and they're busting themselves for us every Saturday, so I can't ask for anymore from them. It definitely feels like a 'Brook team of old, when we were winning stuff, so hopefully this is the start of something good," said Hughes.

"It'd be great for the boys to lift a bit of silverware, and maybe it could push them on for the rest of the season. It would be great for them to get something back, in return for the hard work they've been putting in.

"It'll be a tough game though, everybody knows how good Cleary are. They've had the same basis of a team for the last couple of years. You've got the two boys at the back - Mackle [Paul McElroy] and Paul Donegan, who are very good and you've got the likes of Karl Shields there and Robby Quinn, they're all good players.

"They were missing one or two the last time we played them at the start of the year when we beat them. They were short up front that day, whereas Neil Barr has been knocking them in all season, so it'll be a different game with him there, a big target man to hit. But we've played plenty of other very good teams this season with good strikers, and we've managed them alright, so hopefully we'll be able to manage him too."

It's fair to say there aren't as many technically gifted individuals in the current Bessbrook crop as in previous years. The likes of Philly Hughes, Tommy Mooney, Ciaran Feehan, Ben Treanor, Stephen Hughes and the late Wayne Brown were all exceptional players for the 'Brook.

This season, Hughes says it is much more of a collective effort though, rather than reliance on any particular individual and the team ethos has really shone through.

"It would be very hard to pick one player at the moment and say he's been our best player", he said.

"There's a few lads who have stood out, but it would be very hard to pick a player of the year at the moment, which is what you want. It just shows you everyone is working hard and benefitting from the coaching Tommy [Mooney] and Ben [Treanor] are giving.

"Our defence is solid, Tom Patton in the middle has been excellent and Danny Cinnamond has been great as well. Dermot Fearon has played a couple of games at centre back, but mainly left back, he's been a solid player for us for the last ten years or so. It's not just the defence though, all the team are playing well, I think we've scored a lot more goals this season than maybe we have in previous seasons. There's a lot of players chipping in with goals. In the past couple of seasons Lee Fallon was scoring most of them, whereas now they're spread through the whole team, which shows we're dangerous all over the park."

Hughes has enjoyed a terrific record with the Camlough Road based team in the Bessbrook Cup as a player over the years, reaching the final on five occasions, accruing three winner's medals. And he isn't finished yet either - as he is likely to play a key part in this year's final.

Hughes was part of the great 'Brook sides that beat Shanro Santos, Killowen Celtic and Cleary Celtic in the 05/06, 07/08 and 2011/12 finals respectively, before losing out in the 2013/14 decider against Orchard City. Bessbrook also reached the 2010/11 final, which was due to be against Windmill Stars, but the trophy was awarded to Windmill after a protest was lodged that Bessbrook had played an ineligible player in the semi-final win over Cleary.

"I was lucky enough to have played in three of the finals but I missed the Shanro final through injury," said Hughes.

"We'll obviously be looking for a similar performance and a similar result as the last time we played Cleary in the final. Dermot Fearon and Gary McVicar are still here from then and we'll be looking to draw on all their experience. We've a good mix of youth and experience, the same as Cleary. They've a lot of experience in their team; they know what they're at. A lot of their players will be used to playing on a big pitch as well, which is maybe a wee bit of an advantage to them, but it's a cup final, so it's all on the day, nobody knows what's going to happen.

"There's maybe less expectation on us because we haven't been at our best this past few years, so that eases the pressure off a little for the final. But we'll not be thinking about that too much, we're just going to get our team set up right and get our heads right and see how it goes, you can only do your best on the day."


CLEARY CELTIC: Stephen Havern, Connor Hanna, Fergal Lavery, Joe McParland, Paul McElroy (skipper), Paul Donegan, Chris McCormack, Robby Quinn, Stephen Quinn, Eamon Pollock, Cathal O'Reilly, Owen Donaghy, Noel McCoy, Neil Barr, Mark Cahill, Shay McAllister, James McParland, Karl Shields.


BESSBROOK UNITED: Conor Ruddy, Danny Cinnamond, Shaun Cinnamond, Dermot Fearon, Tom Patton, Kyle Cartmill, Stephen King, Gary McVicar, Gareth Hughes, Stephen Matthews (skipper), Lee Fallon, Karl McVerry, Michael Hastewell, Sean Garey, Shay Carroll, Alan Tasker, David Edgar, Ryan O'Hare, Conor Sloan.


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