First defeat of season for Stars
15 September 2021
Windmill Stars almost held on for extra-time in the Bob Radcliffe Cup on Saturday but a late goal by Dungannon U20s sent them through to the second round and left the Newry men with their first defeat of the season.
While it was disappointing for new Stars manager Kieran McCourt, he admits that the young opposition were strong and with players missing, he’d rather lose in this competition than in the league where his side have four wins from four.
It wasn’t that much of a surprise either, as Dungannon are a sharp and skilful outfit, who had the better of Windmill for the most part.
“They were decent, so we were always going to be up against it. We had a few missing as well. We battled on but we were a bit unlucky that a silly mistake at the end cost us. But they were a good side and they moved the ball very well,” admitted McCourt.
That mistake came off the boot of Mark McAteer who fluffed an attempted clearance in the eightieth minute. Before that, Windmill had a few chances in the first half but very little in the second and hanging on for extra-time had seemed the most likely outcome up until that point.
Stars were up against it from the outset against this young fit side, but they knew the quality that Dungannon bring through.
They reached the final of this competition last season and they knocked Windmill out at the quarter-final stage a few years ago. A number of players from that team went on to play for the first team and some even ended up playing in England.
“The first 10 minutes of the second half we did okay and then we started dropping deep again and gave them a chance to come at us,” felt the manager.
“But we had a few missing today [captain Ruairi Devlin and centre half Ruairi Cunningham] and that would have made a big difference. John Joe [Maguire] going off injured didn’t help matters. But if you’re going to lose one it may as well be in one of the cups.”
The visitors began as they meant to go on, piling early pressure on Windmill and attacking their goal. Corey Smith and Kenny Ximenes looked particularly dangerous, with the former whipping in some lovely crosses from the left and the latter showing some nifty footwork and doggedness in winning and retaining the ball.
Windmill’s first foray down the other end in the sixth minute, saw Paul Cunningham send a ball into the box where Ryan Quinn’s glancing header didn’t quite have enough on it to trouble Dungannon keeper Shea Murphy.
In the tenth minute, a free in from close to the right corner flag saw Conor McKeown’s header fly wide and at the other end, Shea Kearney’s effort from distance was caught comfortably by Windmill netminder Peter Murphy.
His opposite number and namesake showed a bit of vulnerability by almost gifting Windmill a goal on 16 minutes. He nonchalantly went to scoop up a loose ball but it almost slipped past him into the net.
Kevin Marks took note and moments later tried to swoop in a and finish a back-pass that the keeper too casually went to clear, but Murphy got there just in time and he tightened up after that.
Dungannon came close on 22 minutes when Ximenes weaved his way past McKeown and Lonnie Larkin before being stopped by Maguire. His clearance fell to Steven Scott however, whose shot for goal flew over the bar.
Ryan Quinn and Ronan McGrath came close for Stars and McKeown nodded over the top, but it remained scoreless at the break.
Dungannon got off to a promising start in the second half, with Vicky Saldanha setting up Smith for a super strike that forced an equally super save from Murphy who leaped high and pushed the ball over his crossbar for a corner.
Smith hit the side netting minutes later but Windmill got the ball down the other end after that and had a spell of possession but no clear shots on goal.
As the game wore on, Dungannon’s youth began to tell, with Windmill being pushed further back into their own half and their midfield stretched when Maguire hobbled off injured.
Gareth White made a good block to deny Kearney a goal on the hour mark, but Stars were increasingly getting frustrated with each other as time wore on and their chances diminished.
They did have one gilt-edged chance to break the deadlock on 75 minutes when Ruairi McKevitt found a way through on the break. His close-range shot was parried out by the Dungannon keeper, but it fell straight to the same player at the right hand post, but McKevitt sent the rebound wide of the far post.
The only goal of the game arrived on 80 minutes when a dangerous loose ball in the Windmill box fell to McAteer who tried to hoof it over the bar. But the ball dropped short in front of goal and Oran O’Kane was on hand to bundle into the net.
McKeown was sent off with a straight red five minutes later for denying a clear goalscoring opportunity, but Windmill never really looked like scoring in any case and that one goal proved to be the undoing of Stars as it remained 1-0 at the final whistle.
McCourt was stoic in the defeat and recognised that it was a combination of good opposition and a depleted squad that cost Windmill on the day.
“You’re always going to get good sides coming up from the Irish League – Under 20s especially. A lot of those guys have been touching into the first team as well so they’re always going to be a good outfit,” he admitted.
“And our squad’s already a wee bit thin. We’re waiting for a few guys to come back from Gaelic. We had a couple of 15-year-olds on the bench today so when it came to making an impact with changes, we didn’t have much to go to,” said the manager who is looking forward rather than back.
“We’re doing okay in the league. We have four from four so that’s the priority. We’re in the Irish Cup in two weeks so it gives us a chance to use a few guys and get a few boys back.
“We’re still finding our feet from when I came in. There are still a lot of players we haven’t even seen yet. So once they come back in we’re hoping to get a whole new influx of players again and we’ll see what we have then. But so far so good.”To read more subscribe to our online Newspaper