FAI Junior Cup Final Match Report, May 25th, 2014
St Michael’s FC 4 – 0 Ballynanty Rovers
St Michaels reached their Holy Grail on Sunday after wandering forty years in the desert of Irish Junior Football, when they captured the FAI Junior Cup for the second time in their history, and became the first Tipperary club to win the coveted title a second time.
Having lost out on the final day on no fewer than four occasions since ‘that’ 1974 final, they produced a massive performance, at the biggest venue in Irish football, the Aviva Stadium in front of a huge and very noisy support from the Premier County.
The Saint’s produced a performance worthy of the Aviva Stadium and went marching back to Tipperary with the FAI Aviva Junior Cup in tow.
The special treatment the finalists received throughout the build-up week continued right to kick off. There was red carpet, music and fanfare at the home of Irish football. The sense of occasion wasn’t lost on the sizable support nor it seems was it on the Ballynanty players and they looked a nervy teen on a first ever appearance, while in the opening ten minutes Michael’s had a confidence and assurance about them that made people feel they weren’t going to let the title slip away one more time.
The Munster Cup Champions pressed to win the ball high right from the start and once in possession looked inventive. Irish junior international Jimmy Carr motored well down the right and Richard Ryan was a colossus in midfield, winning his tackles, and moving the ball quickly to his attackers in front of him.
As a result Balla’s first visit to opposition territory didn’t come until ten minutes in. That brief spell afterwards however, only produced half chances, and never really troubled the pairing of Walsh and Breen in the middle of the Michael’s defence. At the other end, Carr had a tame shot from long range, and Pat Quinn had a close in header saved while David Slattery’s dragged shot wide wouldn’t have counted as the off side flag was raised.
The Limerick side eventually settled and began to dominate in the middle period of the half. Alex Purcell showed how a winger is meant to approach a big decider and revelled in the open spaces. He caused the Saint’s semi-final hero Brian Buckley all manner of trouble down the right flank and after one of a number of tricky dribbles down the flank presented David Dunphy with the chance to score the most important goal of his long Ballananty year career, but the midfielder, completely fluffed his effort.
However, just as the noisy Ballananty fans upgraded from excitable to expectant a wing wizard at the other end produced a moment of magic to help break the deadlock with the clock approaching the twenty minute mark. Carr got to the byline down the right before beating Shane Doran and dug out a cross for David Slattery to emulate his Munster Cup heroics, and head past Stephen McNamara from six yards. This was a massive return for a player in his first season at the Saint’s, to score in two of the biggest finals in Irish Junior soccer.
The goal didn’t see Balla buckle and they immediately set about trying to restore parity. They found themselves deep in opposition territory on a number of occasions, but when Scrooge like center halves James Walsh and Paul Breen were not halting their advances they found the box too crowded and were unable to show anything for their efforts.
The pendulum in a fast paced half then swung back the way of the treble winners again as Carr upped it a gear and he helped his side create a number of late chances. The winger won a corner from which Buckley had a header cleared off the line, before he enabled Slattery to tee up Quinn, who hooked over under pressure from twelve yards.
Michael’s took a goal lead into the break, but ‘not good enough’ must have been theme of Jason Purcell’s half time team talk, as the 1974 winners came out all guns blazing and ready to blow Balla away after the turnaround. Richie Ryan was again controlling the midfield and the side who are renowned for their ability to make pitch tiny when they without the ball made it look massive with impressive movement and a sharper approach when in possession.
Not long after the restart the Saint’s marched into a two goal lead. Another neat move saw Quinn end up with the ball on the edge of the six yard area, and the striker showed power to shrug off his marker before producing a brilliant finish, finding the far corner from a tight angle to double the Tipperary sides lead.
That didn’t just take the wind out of Rovers sails, it seemed to sink any hope they had of a comeback. They ditched their measured approach in favour of a long ball game and the Saint’s took full advantage. The Saint’s fans now in full voice drove their heroes on, and the player’s went full steam ahead to put the game beyond doubt in a five minute spell of pure magic.
On eighty minutes Ryan broke from his own half and picked out Carr with a brilliantly weighted pass, gifting the winger the goal his all round game deserved. Three goals to the good it was all done, but Carr wasn’t finished and four minutes later he produced an effort to take the breath away. After buying himself a yard with a clever trick as he ran on goal he passed the ball into the bottom right hand corner from twenty yards.
The biggest cheer of the day was reserved for record Junior International cap holder James Walsh, who got a standing ovation from both set of supporters as he was substituted just minutes before the decorated stalwart got his hands on the most coveted Irish Junior football trophy after a career of waiting.
A folk hero of the Saint’s, no one deserved the honour more, and there was no prouder player on the day, to be leading his friends and team mates up to participate in a day that will never be forgotten. Amongst the joy were tears in memories of players who never got to see the mighty Saint’s win the Cup again, but they were remembered in the kind words of James as he made a speech that would put the hairs standing on the neck of even the hardest supporter.
This was a day that will live long in the memory, supported not only by fans of the club, but fans of football that came from all over Tipperary, suspending their rivalries for the day to cheer on players and friends. And when they got back to Tipperary Town, they joined in the celebrations, with those who couldn’t get to Dublin on the day, but spent it with their ear glued to the radio, relaying every kick, every shot and every tackle, as if they were on the pitch beside the players.
Old names were spoken again, great players remembered, and history made. Hopes were expressed that they would never have to wait so long again, but for Sunday, a new legend was born, and an old hoodoo was laid to rest. It couldn’t have happened on a better day, to a better bunch of players, to a committed management team, to a band of loyal supporters. Four zero on the scoreboard at the end. Forty years of hurt, finally put to rest.