St. Michael’s AFC 1 Clonmel Town 0
Thanks to a goal eight minutes from time from the head of FAI Junior International Player of the Year James Walsh it was St. Michael’s of Tipperary town that are the newly crowned champions of Munster after eventually overcoming the challenge of their archrivals Clonmel Town in this all Tipperary Southern & District League Lucozade Sport Munster Junior Challenge Cup Final staged before a large attendance at sun-kissed Cahir Park last Saturday evening.
In what was a repeat of the 2001 provincial showdown Clonmel Town went into this game on the back of four previous final defeats and were determined to try and rectify that situation as they got stuck into St. Michael’s from the kick-off. With Clonmel Town’s 3-5-2 formation swamping the middle of the park it prevented St. Michael’s wingers exploiting the open spaces of a Cahir Park pitch that would have been ideal for playing fast flowing ground football. But instead this final turned out to be a tense free-ridden affair with both sides afraid of making a mistake and as a result leaving very few goalmouth opportunities for the big crowd to enjoy.
Saints custodian Ian Bennis – winner with Pike Rovers in 2003 – was first into the action when easily saving from Michael McHugh but St. Michael’s chasing a fifth final success saw an Andrew Flynn free-kick being headed over by striker Barry Ryan. Ryan, who was never on a losing side in a provincial or national final winning two Munster and two FAI medals with Fairview Rangers then headed over when in a good position. Former Clonmel Town striker Aaron Moroney found himself through on goal but he opted to go for glory rather than pass with two players in the clear and Town’s keeper Richard Ryan took it with ease. Kevin Blanche ‘ looking for his first winners’ medal at the fifth time of asking ‘ made a timely tackle on Davy Ryan as the Saints midfielder broke from deep. Town’s skipper Paul Scully then set-up Ian Barnes but his powerful strike skimmed the paintwork and went wide.
Midway through the half Saints produced the best passage of play when Brendan Cronin ‘ winner in 1996 with Greenmount Rangers of Cork ‘ did a one-two with Christopher Higgins that opened up the Town’s defence but the latter shot wide with just the keeper to beat. Clonmel Town did not capitulate like they did in their last encounter with St. Michael’s and forced a free-kick from which central defender Paul Breen rose highest to head clear from Robbie Boland. Most of the danger for either side came from set pieces with Breen although under pressure clearing another Ian Barnes’ floater into the danger zone. The last action of a half saw Clonmel Town almost break the deadlock when a Tony Scully through ball found Michael McHugh whose goal bound strike was deflected away by Denis Cremins for a fruitless corner-kick.
Clonmel Town opened the second half the brightest with Alan Coady shooting wide when in a good position. Then a Tony Scully low shot-cum-cross across the face of the goal saw panic in the Saints defence but it was cleared for a corner-kick from which Alan Coady’s attempt from close range was hacked away. Clonmel Town who were enjoying the best spell were unlucky not to break the deadlock when Ian Barnes supplied an inch perfect centre but with Alan Coady and Michael McHugh going for the same ball they got in each others way and Ian Bennis came quickly off his line to clear the danger. St. Michael’s in order to liven up their attack brought on Richard Ryan and it looked like an inspirational substitution but Ryan through on goal got the ball caught under his feet and it was cleared. It was Clonmel Town’s turn to feel the pressure as Ian Barnes came to his side’s rescue when clearing a Brendan Cronin header and Kevin Blanche was in the right place to boot a Davy Ryan effort to safety. Clonmel Town introduced Adam McSharry and Paul Shanahan with twenty minutes remaining and they added a new dimension to their attack as Town started enjoying territorial advantage. Tony Scully saw his header just scraping the top of the crossbar and then both McSharry and Shanahan forced Ian Bennis to produce important saves as the tie reached a final tension filled last ten minutes.
With little separating these sides and the clock running down St. Michael’s although having their backs to the wall were relying on the counter attack to alleviate the pressure and from one of these forced a corner-kick against the run of play with eight minutes remaining. From substitute Sean O’Halloran dangerous centre Town’s custodian Richard Ryan came off his line to punch the ball clear but under pressure he was unable to make proper contact and rising majestically above everyone else skipper James Walsh headed the ball powerfully home to the delight of the Tipperary town fans. Over the dying minutes a shell-shocked Clonmel Town side tried to redeem the situation as they produced attack after attack but the Saints defence stood confidently and when Referee John Hadnett sounded the final whistle, there were joyous scenes in the St. Michael’s camp but heartbreak yet again for a Clonmel Town side that faced five final appearance defeats in the past decade.
Overall this was not the classic cup decider everybody was expecting. The object of the lesson seem to be to prevent each other from creating any type of flowing football and as it turned out to be a no frills contest players on both sides although having plenty of football talent spent more time winning the ball and hacking it to safety such was the frenzied nature of the game rather than distributing it intelligently. But then again with so much honour at stake it became obvious from the beginning that each side was going to try and prevent the other from gaining the upper hand.
Munster Association Football Hon Chairman, Peter Harrington congratulated both clubs on serving up a typical cup tie. He continued by saying while it was great to see a side like St. Michael’s lifting the ‘blue-riband’ trophy of the MFA for a fifth time it was very hard on Clonmel Town to swallow the bitter pill of defeat having contested no less than eight finals, including last season’s decider and yet be on the loosing side for five of those. He complimented Cahir Park AFC and their hard working staff on providing top class facilities for this wonderful footballing occasion and the match officials on doing an excellent job.
Mr. Michael McCaffery whose company Lucozade Sport sponsors the Munster Junior Challenge Cup then presented the trophy to St. Michael’s captain and goal hero James Walsh to the cheers of the large contingent of supporters.
As a gesture to Cahir Park AFC to honour this occasion in their long history St. Michael’s presented a special memento to Hon. Chairman Patrick Halley.
St. Michael’s AFC: Ian Bennis, Denis Cremins, Christopher Higgins, Paul Breen, James Walsh, Derry Peters, Davy Ryan, Andrew Flynn, Aaron Moroney, Barry Ryan, Brendan Cronin. Subs: Richard Ryan (for Barry Ryan) Sean O’Halloran (for Derry Peters), Anthony Glasheen (for Cronin), Tony Hewitt and Wayne Rodgers.
Clonmel Town: Richard Ryan, Tony Davis, Ray Condon, Kevin Blanche, Ian Cleary, Tony Scully, Ian Barnes, Paul Scully, Robbie Boland, Alan Coady, Michael McHugh. Subs: Paul Shanahan and Adam McSharry (for Cleary and Boland), Dwayne Burns (for T. Scully), Barry Kiely and Aidan Landers.
Officials: J.Hadnett, M.Frieberg, J.Maguire, P.Keane (all Tipperary)