Castlerea gain revenge in Challenge cup
RDFL Challenge Cup: Castlerea Celtic 3 Ballymoe FC 1
Castlerea Celtic derived a measure of compensation for the dramatic loss of their Premier Division title to Ballymoe FC when they defeated their local rivals in this feisty but enjoyable cup final played in Lecarrow last Saturday night.
Ballymoe were the better side in the opening half, but after John Connaughton was sent off following a second yellow card after a tackle on Ronan Curran in the 56th minute, the tide turned and Castlerea won with a bit to spare in the end.
Given the circumstances as both sides went into the game, and the fact that it was a repeat of last year’s final, it was a very competitive game and there were some tasty tackles flying in at times but it never really got out of hand.
The drama started as early as the second minute when Castlerea goalkeeper Evan Curran was forced off with a serious shoulder injury to be replaced by Giles McDonagh, who had little goalkeeping experience, but he acquitted himself very well for his side throughout.
Ballymoe started brightly and McDonagh was called into action in the 13th minute as he saved a James Connaughton effort. Four minutes later the stand-in ‘keeper spilled a Maurice Connaughton free-kick and was relieved to see Damien Goggins firing over from the rebound.
Ballymoe were turning the screw and they didn’t have to wait long to break the deadlock. In the 34th minute Keith Keenan’s cross was headed on by James Connaughton and Daniel Malone supplied the finish to fire the champions ahead.
However, the lead was short lived as three minutes later Nathan Bligh’s free-kick was fumbled by Richard Thompson and Jack Higgins headed in from close range for the equaliser. The sides went in level at the break.
Following an early Castlerea flurry on the resumption, Ballymoe were down to 10 men in the 56th minute when John Connaughton saw red. From that point on it was an uphill battle for the newly crowned Premier Division champions and just two minutes later Castlerea were in front.
Adrian Collins fouled Ronan Curran on his way towards goal and referee Conor Fitzgibbon had no hesitation in pointing to the spot. Celtic captain Curran dusted himself off and blasted the penalty high into the Ballymoe net. Castlerea were now in control but in fairness to Ballymoe, they never gave up the ghost.
Ballymoe made a number of substitutions which prompted a noticeable improvement, but try as they might, they couldn’t find that vital equaliser.
Daniel Malone and Maurice Connaughton had half chances to get them back on level terms but Castlerea were comfortable for the most part with Dominic Bligh and Jack Higgins directing operations in the middle of the field. Ballymoe threw everything into attack in the final few minutes and it was inevitable that Castlerea would create chances on the break. In the first minute of added time, Dominic Bligh sprinted away to finish coolly and the cup was on it’s way back to Castlerea for another season.
It was a fitting end to a very exciting season that the two best teams in the league shared the major trophies between them. For Castlerea, great credit must be given to stand-in goalkeeper Giles McDonagh and also to Jack Higgins, David Fitzpatrick, Dominic Bligh and Ronan Curran. For a battling Ballymoe side, Keith Keenan, Maurice Connaughton, Robbie Keenan and James Connaughton all played very well.