Wonder Wall helps Callan clinch McCalmont Cup

Callan United 0, Newpark United A 0 (AET - Callan won 4-2 on pens)

Callan United 0, Newpark United A 0 (AET - Callan won 4-2 on pens)

THEY HAD to play a 40-year waiting game, but Callan United are McCalmont Cup champions once again!

Backed by a huge crowd, captain Eoin Wall led his side to the coveted title with an ice-cool display in the penalty shootout against Newpark United A at a red-hot Derdimus on Sunday, writes Trevor Spillane.

Having endured 110 minutes which swung from tense to free-flowing football at times, the game finally went all the way to penalties.

Now it was down to who blink first. Unfortunately for Newpark, who were fighting to get their name on the Cup for the first time ever, it proved to be them.

It was agony for the city side, ecstasy for Callan when Brendan Hanniffy stepped up to take their second penalty and saw Wall dive low to his right to beat the ball away.

The Callan netminder repeated the act again in the fourth round of kicks, this time going full stretch to his left to turn Keith Fleming’s kick round the post.

With the score now 3-2 in their favour, Callan were so close to the title they could almost smell the silver polish. Wall made sure the Cup wouldn’t slip through their grasp when he took their fourth kick, tucking it low into the right corner to spark celebrations that were four decades in the waiting.

Champions in 1971 and 1972, Callan’s path to this year’s final may have tipped the balance in their favour in terms of a pre-match favourite. They dispatched Premier Division champions Evergreen A, reigning holders Freebooters A and Lions A en route to the big day in Derdimus, but Newpark weren’t about to let them have it all their own way. The city side were no slouches either - they saw off the likes of Evergreen B, Freebooters B and Division One champions Thomastown United A - but crucially had also held a hoodoo over Callan throughout the season, beating them in both league and cup encounters previously.

Psychological edge

It was Newpark who made the most of that psychological edge early on, owning most of the attacking play. Henry O’Neill and Tommy Donovan had glimpses of the goal in the opening 10 minutes, but neither hit the target.

The city side were still on top and should have opened the scoring in the 20th minute. Awarded a free on the left side of the box, Henry O’Neill whipped in a dangerous ball which flew towards a cluster of players. John Demecz cleverly let the ball through to team-mate Ray Meagher, who connected with a first-time sidefoot shot, but netminder Eoin Wall made an instinctive save to deny the Newpark skipper.

Newpark were determined to get off to a scoring start, but couldn’t find the killer touch. They enjoyed plenty of possession - at the back John Demecz and Gerry O’Brien excelled, while up top Henry O’Neill, Kevin Morrissey and Shane O’Neill were a potent triple threat - but couldn’t turn it into goals as a Callan defence well marshalled by Alan Costigan and Cathal Byrne kept the city side at bay.

That didn’t stop them attacking though, as they went close again on 35 minutes. Midfielder Tommy Donovan’s excellent ball from the centre circle sent full-back Ger Wall steaming away down the right. The defender did well to hold off the challenge from Joey Byrne and break into the box but he drilled his shot across the face of the goal, inches outside the far post.

It had been a tentative start from Callan, whose main threat Simon Burke had been well shackled, but they began to gain a foothold in the game. Midfielders Matthew Holohan and Michael Hartley teamed up to roll the ball into the path of John Mark Egan, but his 36th minute snapshot flew past the left upright.

That was Callan’s first real chance of the game. They saved their best until the dying seconds of the half. Finally given some room, Burke showed how dangerous he was when shifting J.P. Corcoran’s flick-on into the path of Joe Byrne. The winger had time to take a touch before letting fly from close range, but Newpark’s Bobby Maher made a super save to deny Callan the opener.

It wasn’t until the second half that Callan really began to show their teeth. With Burke finding more and more space in which to run they started to peg Newpark back, but just like their opponents they too found the final ball was missing.

The introduction of Tony Delaney to the fray was a plus for Callan, who suddenly found a new attacking outlet. Delaney was the provider on 70 minutes when he split the Newpark defence with a pass for Burke to race on to, but Bobby Maher was quickly off his line to smother the danger. The sub then spurned a great chance of his own when Matthew Holohan’s 75th minute free fizzed across the box. The goal opened up in front of Delaney but the ball got stuck under his foot for a split-second, giving Ray Meagher just enough time to nick it to safety.

Callan were on song now as another sub, Robbie Wall, came into the game and beefed up the attack. His first act was to flick on a kick-out to Burke who squared the ball to Michael Hartley. The chance was there, but a last-ditch Keith Fleming denied him a clean strike.


Substitutions also revived Newpark in the second half, with replacements Sean Falsey and Sammy Johnson helping to spur them on. The duo were involved as the city side almost stole the lead with six minutes left to play, Johnson bringing the best out of wall with a stinging snapshot. The netminder palmed the ball skywards, giving Falsey time to rush in and bustle it goalwards, but somehow Cathal Byrne got back to clear the danger off the line.

The deadlock prevailed well into extra-time, with both sides making a late charge in an effort to avoid penalties. Newpark went close - really, really close - to snatching the spoils when Tommy Donovan latched on to a loose ball just inside the box and unleashed a crisp low drive with 106 minutes on the clock. For a second the Callan team froze, as the ball curled towards the bottom right corner of their net, but somehow Wall got down low with a strong left hand to push it past the post.

Callan left it even later. The final was in the dying seconds when John J. Egan was given the freedom of Derdimus to storm forward and drop in a teasing cross. The ball dropped at the feet of Michael Hartley, who could have settled the tie, but he couldn’t get a clean shot away before a relieved Newpark scrambled the ball clear.

In the end the spurned chances mattered little to Callan, who showed a clinical efficiency in the spot-kicks as J.P. Corcoran, Alan Costigan and Simon Burke converted three emphatic kicks.

Newpark got off to a good start through Henry O’Neill, but fell behind when Eoin Wall dived to his right to stop Brendan Hannify’s kick.

The game was 3-2 to Callan when Wall denied Keith Fleming, going low to his left to get a hand to the defender’s penalty. The Callan captain then came off the line to take the fourth kick himself. Putting the ball on the spot, Wall took three steps back and spun before coolly slipping his penalty inside the right post.

The wait was over - Callan were champions again.

Callan United: Eoin Wall, John J. Egan, Kevin Fitzpatrick, Alan Costigan, Cathal Byrne, John Mark Egan, Matthew Holohan (Robbie Wall, 81 mins), Michael Hartley, Simon Burke, J.P. Corcoran, Joe Byrne (Tony Delaney, 51 mins).

Newpark United A: Bobby Maher, Ger Wall (Sammy Johnson, 79 mins), Gerry O’Brien, Keith Fleming, Ray Meagher, John Demecz, Brendan Hanniffy, Tommy Donovan, Shane O’Neill (Eamon Conway, 100 mins), Kevin Morrissey (Sean Falsey, 79 mins), Henry O’Neill.

Referee: Eoin Walsh. Linesmen: Ollie Falsey, Tristan Eardley. Fourth official: Nicky Marnell.