19 MAR 2019
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Cleary set up all-Carnbane Easter final

13 March 2019

Cleary Celtic made sure that the Mid-Ulster Shield will go to a Carnbane team this year, and it promises to be a cracking Bank Holiday for either Cleary or Bessbrook when they meet on Easter Monday to contest the final.

Cleary overcame Hill Street on penalties in the semi-final last Wednesday night in Holm Park and manager Chris Murphy was delighted with both the result and the performance.

Bessbrook defeated Ballyoran with a 3-2 victory in their semi, but this was a sterner test for Cleary that went all the way against a strong Hill Street side and the wind played its part too. 

It was a bitterly cold night in Armagh and Cleary were playing against the strong breeze in the first half. Hill Street are a big, physical, well-established team and they made things difficult for the Newry men. Cleary did come close to scoring a few times in the opening period, but it was Hill Street who broke the deadlock before the break.

Panic never set in however and with the wind at their back after the interval Cleary dominated and after knocking on the door for a while they equalised, and it remained 1-1 at the full-time whistle. 

With no further goals in extra-time it took a cool performance in the penalty shoot-out to get Cleary over the winning line but on the balance of play they were worthy winners.

“Hill Street are a top, top side. They put us under pressure in the first half. We had to play against a really strong wind but we knew it was crucial to get in at half-time in touch and impose ourselves in the second half and we really did that,” explained a delighted and relieved Murphy after the game. 

“I thought we were by far the better team in the second half, even in extra time. The chances that came about, a lot of them were ours. So, I’m really pleased with the boys. The effort they put in tonight was tremendous. It really was,” added the manager.

“The elements there tonight were ridiculous for a game of football, but we knew that if we got in at half-time in touch we’d have a great chance in the second half. We did the same against Rockview in the [Bessbrook] Cup final. We were playing against the wind and then we came out in the second half and imposed ourselves and again today it worked.

“The goal was coming for a long time. Even in the first half Cathal O’Reilly hit the crossbar. Their keeper pulled off a really good save that was going into the top corner and Neil Barr had a good chance, so we had our chances against the wind as well.”

Despite the difficult conditions Cleary had a couple of early scoring opportunities. The first arrived after five minutes, with the lively Mark Cahill firing over the top after Barr’s effort was deflected into his path. A mistake at the back 10 minutes later saw Ryan Quinn steal the ball and pass to Barr who couldn’t quite connect and poked straight to Karl Cullen in the Hill Street goal.

Shay McAllister made a few good runs down the right wing, the most promising saw him pick out Barr further down the line, but his pass was intercepted well by Jeff Crowe who was one of a number of Hill Street players who closed Cleary down effectively in the final third.

Hill Street hadn’t created too many chances at that stage, but they looked dangerous going forward and continued to defend well, with deliveries to the Cleary forwards few and far between. However, the best chance of the game thus far fell to the Celts on 26 minutes when O’Reilly burst forward, found a gap and drilled goalward. With the keeper stranded in no-mans-land, he could only turn and watch as the ball pounded back into play off the crossbar where Crowe picked it up and nervously back passed to Cullen.

Two minutes later it was Hill Street who hit the target though and it was a super strike too. A throw-in from Greg Harrison found Jay Gardiner in space 25 yards from goal and with one touch he fired his shot sweetly into the roof of the net giving Noel McCoy no chance.

The ball remained in Cleary’s end for much of the remainder of the half, as Hill Street tried to increase their lead with the wind in their favour. Brian Bird, Paul McElroy and Fergal Lavery did well to keep them at bay, but on 42 minutes Cleary had a chance to level when Cahill went on the break through the middle and played a good cross to Barr on the left wing. He picked out the in-rushing O’Reilly in front of goal but his shot was well saved by Cullen for a corner that came to nothing.

Moments later at the other end Bird did well in taking the ball off Harrison’s foot when he was about to strike and with that danger averted it remained 1-0 at the interval.

Having withstood the first half pressure, Cleary were soon on top in the second period and they won a number of frees early on. Barr sent his first dead ball effort well wide of the target but on 60 minutes he struck an unstoppable trademark bullet that unluckily flew up in the air and over the top off the crossbar.

Cleary had the majority of possession at that stage and a goal looked imminent. It arrived on 78 minutes when Cahill received a short pass from Lavery outside the area and drilled into the top right-hand corner of the net to make it a deserved 1-1. 

O’Reilly set up Barr three minutes later but he shot wide and on 82 minutes Hill Street came close to taking the lead again when Ralph Wright scuffed a loose ball toward goal from close range. It trickled past McCoy but Bird was on hand to poke around the post. McCoy produced a good save from a free by Matthew Reynolds but it was Cleary who came closest to scoring the winning goal on 88 minutes. Again it came from a free taken by Barr - his bread and butter - from a scoreable range. His powerful strike flew through a gap in the Hill Street wall and while the keeper got both hands to the ball the power was almost too much for him to handle. It hopped up out of his hands, but Cullen managed to regather and after one more good save from McCoy from a Deane Healey effort, the full-time whistle sent the match into extra time.

Cleary brought on Stevie Quinn and James McParland, with penalties in mind. And as the deadlock remained, with neither side creating any noteworthy clear-cut chances in the 20 minutes, so it proved to be.

Barr stepped up first and coolly slotted into the bottom left-hand corner, and a roar went up from the travelling Cleary supporters when McCoy saved Harrison’s shot after that. It remained 1-0 however as Cahill’s penalty was saved and Hill Street levelled when Kyle Cousins hit the target with a low drive. McCoy came out of his goal for the next and scored high into the roof of the net but it was 2-2 after that when Gardiner sent the Cleary keeper the wrong way with a well-taken penalty. McParland made no mistake as he drilled into the roof of the net with the next Cleary shot and after Crowe sent his effort over the bar, it was down to Ryan Quinn who made it 4-2 with a sweet penalty into the bottom left-hand corner to send Cleary Celtic into the final. 

Murphy had nothing but praise for all of his men at the end of a long night, including McCoy who usually plays outfield. “He’s definitely best outfield but he’s a top keeper,” said Murphy. “He’s one of those guys that you can ask to play anywhere, and he will play anywhere, and he’ll play with a smile on his face. He loves the challenge, and he scored a penalty too. He’s a top lad and it was top marks today. All the boys were 10 out of 10. And to single anybody out would be unfair because it was a terrific team effort,” said the manager who can now relax for a while and look forward to what promises to be a cracking final between the league champions and Bessbrook who are on a fantastic run. “Hopefully the whole Carnbane community will come out and support it because it should be a really good final. Bessbrook are into the semi-final of the Junior Cup, which is an incredible achievement. And then to back it up with getting to the final of the Mid-Ulster it’s been an incredible season for them so it’s going to be a tough game. Hopefully the elements will be alright,” he laughed before ducking into the changing room out of the cold.

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