Cleary complete double

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

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THE AOH Cup final between Cleary Celtic and Villa Rovers on Friday night drew the curtain on another highly competitive and successful season in the Carnbane League.
Cleary clinched their fourth AOH Cup title in the club's history, after a comfortable victory over Villa in what was the landmark 50th year of the competition, to secure a league and cup double.
Villa, who were missing a host of first teamers, looked dangerous going forward early on in the match, but once Cleary got their noses in front through Neil Barr in the 34th minute, the Hoops dominated the game from then on and sealed the victory in injury time, courtesy of a goal from youngster Cathal O'Reilly.
Incidentally, Barr's goal took his final tally for the season to a super total of 48 - streaks ahead of the chasing pack. In fact, history was made in local football, as this is the first occasion in the Carnbane League that a father and son have won the coveted Golden Boot award, as Neil's dad, Jim, pocketed the award in the 1994/95 season whilst playing for Parkview.
Cathal O'Reilly's goal in the final also capped off a memorable year for the supremely talented 18 year old, in his season playing in the green and white Hoops. Cathal also comes from good stock, as his grandfather is local footballing legend, Artie Green.
There were several other standout performances for Cleary in the showpiece decider, with winger Karl Shields impressing in midfield, and at the heart of the defence Paul McElroy was in outstanding form, winning all of the key aerial battles and deservedly picked up the Man of the Match award.
For Villa, goalkeeper Jude Rooney was an assured presence between the posts, while Darren Fegan and Brendan Murtagh were resolute in defence and hardly put a foot wrong all evening.
Villa Rovers player/manager Mark Lennon cut a downcast figure at the final whistle. His side came up that little bit short this season, narrowly losing out on the league title, and were on the wrong end of two cup finals. On the night, the AOH final proved a bridge too far - they were up against it from the off, with no less than eight first team players missing.
But Lennon, who took over the reins of the club from departing manager Johnny Carville midway through the season, can be proud of his efforts for the campaign, and if he can hang on to key men such as defensive rock Darren Fegan, midfield magician Paul Daly and ace goalscorer Kyle Brennan, then his side have every chance of lifting silverware next season.
“We had a few boys playing Gaelic; myself and Corey Quinn were injured, and we had a few lads away. I think we had eight missing in total, who would have potentially started," Lennon said.
“But the boys that were there in the semi-final did a good job for us and they deserved to start there tonight. We were beaten by the better team on the night
“It's disheartening; we were runners up in three competitions this season. But it's not to be, we'll regroup next season and take another stab at it. We just need to keep all the boys we have together and hopefully bring in a few others. Fair play to Cleary, they were the strongest team tonight and they deserved to win."
Meanwhile Cleary Celtic manager Chris Murphy admitted that his side weren't at their best on the night, but was nonetheless delighted to win the trophy - to secure a league and couple double in his first full season as sole manager of the club.
"It'll not say that in the Carnbane book at the end of the season that it wasn't a classic. Cleary are champions and that's all I'm worried about," declared Murphy.
“They were missing lads but we were missing Owen Donaghy who suffered a double leg break last Sunday playing for the Forkhill GAA side, and Paul Donegan who was sent off in the semi-final last week.
“We've played teams off the pitch before and not got the result we wanted. It was important to get the boys in at half time, because we didn't play to our game plan at the start, we played right into Villa's hands to be fair. But I thought we were by far the better footballing side and we showed that in the second half."
Cleary and Villa knocked in eight goals between them in the AOH semis, but things got off to a much more subdued start at Jennings Park on Friday, as it took 17 minutes for either side to register the first clear cut opportunity of the match.
That chance arrived when a towering header from Villa ace Stephen Lennon looked destined for the back of net. But luckily for Cleary, Shay McAllister was on hand to scramble the ball off the goal line.
The Villains again went close to opening the scoring midway through the half when their captain and talisman Paul Daly saw his superbly struck 25 yard free-kick hit the crossbar.
Cleary were struggling to find their rhythm, but on 34 minutes, with their first attempt on target, the Hoops broke the deadlock with a clinical finish from the free scoring Neil Barr. The lively Cathal O'Reilly, fed the ball to Karl Shields on the right wing, and his dangerous cross was headed home into the bottom right corner of the net by the former Newry City hit-man.
Cleary began to grow in confidence after the goal, and just two minutes later the marauding Mark Cahill ghosted through the Villa defence, but was unfortunate to see his fiercely struck low drive crash off the inside of the left goalpost. While, on the stroke of half time, Villa keeper Jude Rooney had to be at his brilliant best to parry away a rasping effort by Neil Barr, following some neat build up play by Karl Shields and Cathal O'Reilly.
The Hoops continued in the ascendancy at the start of the second half, and four minutes in, Cleary veteran, Robby Quinn, connected with a pinpoint cross by the tireless Karl Shields. But from eight yards out Quinn's bullet header narrowly missed the target.
The chances continued to come Cleary's way and on 63 minutes Neil Barr was denied by another top draw save by the excellent Jude Rooney.
But seconds later it seemed that the inevitable goal number two would arrive when Cleary were awarded a penalty kick, after a Villa defender was adjudged to have handled the ball inside the box. In fairness, it looked like a harsh call on Villa, but perhaps justice was served when Cleary missed the resulting spot kick, Neil Barr firing his effort against the crossbar.
Cleary were still dominant at this stage, but with just a slender one goal lead the game was far from safe. Credit to Villa, they battled valiantly right to the end, but the Cleary defence, marshalled by the indomitable Paul McElroy, never really looked in danger of being breached.
Deep into injury time, as Villa were committing men forward, Cleary caught them on the break, to put the game beyond all doubt. Substitute Stephen Quinn, who enjoyed a fine game in midfield after replacing Noel McCoy in the second half, crossed the ball to Cathal O'Reilly, who gleefully headed the ball home from six yards out, to send the strong Cleary contingent into euphoria on the sideline.
After the match, the celebrations reached a crescendo when Newry AOH president Charlie Casey presented victorious Cleary joint-captains Paul McElroy and Robbie Quinn with the AOH Cup.
Casey, a former footballer in his younger days, recalled the inaugural season of the cup fifty years ago. He played in the tournament that year for Albion FC, and even scored a goal in the quarter final.
“It's hard to believe this is the 50th year of AOH Sponsorship of this prestigious Carnbane League Knockout Cup Tournament," said Casey.
“The very first winners of this Cup were a team based in the AOH Club on the Mall in Newry. They were managed, if memory serves, by Hughie Murphy and Bobby Mc Loughlin. The Cup winners back then were presented with the Trophy by the then AOH President Gene Farrell.
“The Final was played at Carnbane Park. I remember playing against the AOH team that year on the same ground in the quarter final for Albion FC. We lost 4-2 that day. My claim to fame was scoring direct from a corner kick in the game!"
Meanwhile Cleary proceeded to the Indo Bar after the match to celebrate their victory and to cap off a very successful season with their awards presentation.
CLEARY CELTIC: Stephen Havern, Fergal Lavery, Shay McAllister, Paul McElroy, Robby Quinn, Mark McAteer, Mark Cahill [replaced by James McParland, 90'], Noel McCoy [replaced by Stephen Quinn, 74'], Neil Barr, Karl Shields, Cathal O'Reilly
VILLA ROVERS: Jude Rooney, Daragh Taylor [replaced by Brendan Carragher, 90'], Daniel McGuigan, Darren Fegan, Brendan Murtagh, Darran Shields, Michael Traynor [replaced by Conor Shields, 46'], Paul Hanna, Paul Daly, Darren Bannon [replaced by Joe Lennon, 66], Stephen Lennon.
Man of the Match: Paul McElroy.
Referee: Eddie Madigan.
Referee Assistance: Roger Morgan and Ciaran Cummins.


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