THEY may have taken the shaky path, but Evergreen B became the first side into the hat for the McCalmont Cup quarter-finals.
Gary Owens was the hero, smashing in a thumping extra-time strike as Ollie Walsh’s side got past Tullaroan by the skin of their teeth.
The goal was just one of several topsy-turvy moments the city side endured on a bitterly cold Thursday night. They took an early lead, lost it and then fell behind before sending the game to extra-time when normal time was almost spent.
The evening didn’t start that way as the Premier Division visitors took just 18 minutes to open their account, Ciaran Snype tucking away a loose ball at the back post after Tullaroan goalkeeper Jason Cahill got his hand to a Conor Barry shot.
Tullaroan may have finished their league campaign with relegation to Division Two, but they weren’t about to throw in the towel. They began to boss the game, forcing Evergreen on to the back-foot.
Michael Burke used the space to his advantage, breaking from defence and driving on as the city side backed off, but Philly Johnston did well to push his 25th minute shot away to safety.
The netminder was called into action to hold Brendan Burke’s snapshot, then again on the half hour as Tullaroan went within a whisker of grabbing an equaliser. Richie Guilfoyle went on a storming run, drawing the last defender, before slipping the ball across to Burke.
A goal seemed certain, but Johnston made a superb right-handed save to keep the ball out.
Having been forced into defensive mode for a spell, Evergreen managed to break upfield long enough to create a chance of their own. Mark Owens’s clever flick-on fell just right for Snype, who tried a cheeky chip, but Jason Cahill did well to tip the ball over the bar.
Play pushed down the other end after that, with the hosts again going close to that equaliser. Guilfoyle thought he had scored it when his soaring cross from the right flew over Johnston, but defender Dylan Whearty got back to hook the ball off the line.
Evergreen survived until the break, but the pressure finally told three minutes into the second half. Pouncing on a long ball the city side’s defence failed to deal with, Brendan Burke had time to take a touch, draw Johnston from his line and slot the ball home into the far side of the net.
That seemed to spark Evergreen B back into life, but they couldn’t find another route to goal. Mikey McDonald went really, really close when he raced on to a Mark Owens flick-on and rounded ’keeper Cahill but his run took him too far to the left, his 69th minute shot hitting the side netting.
Tullaroan stepped up the pace after that and found their goal touch again after Burke was fouled on the left corner of the box. Adrian O’Dea stepped over the 84th minute free, leaving it for Tom Fitzgerald to drill a low shot through a sea of legs past Johnston.
That goal looked good enough to win the game, but Evergreen B had time to hit back. They gave their last throw of the dice in the 88th minute when Conor Barry pumped in a free from just inside his own half.
The gamble paid off. Sent up from the back, Dylan Whearty beat Cahill to the jump and connected with a cushioned header that dropped inside the far post.
Relief turned to joy when Evergreen grabbed the fifth and final goal in the 99th minute. Having profited from defensive problems, it was Tullaroan’s turn to fall asleep at the back as Whearty flicked on a Barry corner to Gary Owens, who smashed home an unstoppable shot from close range.
Even after Owens’s goal the drama wasn’t over, as Tullaroan almost sent the tie to penalties. They had that chance when they were awarded a penalty in the 106th minute, but Brendan Burke saw his spot-kick crash back off the left post before Andy Ryan dashed back to make the clearance.
Tullaroan: Jason Cahill, Danny Coogan, Conor O’Grady, Joe Norton, Michael Burke, Adrian O’Dea, Richie Guilfoyle, Ger Brennan, Brendan Burke, Tom Fitzgerald, Gerry O’Dea (Josh Ronan, 108 mins).
Evergreen B: Philly Johnston, Gary Owens, Mikey Andrews (Gary Maher, 58 mins), Andy Ryan, Dylan Whearty, Adrian Kiely (Chris Traynor, 85 mins), Mikey McDonald (Stephen Guidera, 88 mins), Craig Eardley, Conor Barry, Mark Owens, Ciaran Snype.
Referee: Pat O’Connor.