Thomastown stay on title drive - but only just!

Thomastown United A 2

Thomastown United A 2

AC Kilkenny A 1

THOMASTOWN United maintained their grip on the Division One silverware, but they were forced to hang on by their fingernails on a dramatic Sunday morning.

United, who needed to win their remaining games to pip Clover United to the mantle of league champions, looked to be in real trouble when they trailed a dogged AC Kilkenny A team by a single goal with less than 10 minutes left to play.

Clover United - who were keeping tabs on the game at United Park - practically had their hands on the title by then, but celebrations were cut short by two goals inside five minutes.

Laying siege to the AC goal, Thomastown got back on level terms on 82 minutes when sub Stephen Connolly forced a loose ball home after two Dessie Walsh shots had been blocked by the AC defence.

Five minutes later the hosts were celebrating the unlikeliest of comebacks when Marty Lawrence’s low ball played Derek Lanigan through on goal. An unlucky bounce off defender Adrian Kenny only served to distract stand-in keeper Stephen Hayes, giving Lanigan time to slip the winner in from the narrowest of angles.

Out of jail

While Thomastown can celebrate their win, they will know they got out of jail at just the right time, having been second best for long spells to an AC side who seemed more than capable of dealing with whatever was thrown at them.

The city side were long out of the title race and safe from the threat of relegation. They may have had nothing to play for, but that didn’t stop them from almost spoiling the script. Warren Kavanagh stunned the hosts when he latched on to John McCormack’s centered pass and hammered a thundering first-time 25 yard strike that looped over goalkeeper Paul Dunne and screamed into the top corner.

Thomastown, who had already lost Davy Prendergast and Barry Maher to injury inside 15 minutes, were reeling by that stage. Veteran defender Richie Bolger tried to get them back on level terms when he stormed forward for Paul Dempsey’s 37th minute free, but he was denied a clean header at goal thanks to Darren Hayes’s excellent clearance.

The early goal left AC Kilkenny with a real swagger and almost led to a second three minutes from half-time. Striker James Geoghegan did well to block down Davy Wemyss’s clearance and, after some link-up play with McCormack, work his way into the box but Wemyss recovered in time to force the shot out for a corner.

Thomastown upped the tempo in the second half, with full-back Kevin O’Neill providing plenty of ammunition for the front men, but they couldn’t find a way through a solid AC defence. Richie Bolger directed a header straight at ’keeper Denis Dowd, while Andy Kavanagh got on the end of another quality O’Neill cross on 59 minutes but headed over when a goal seemed on the cards.

AC Kilkenny were largely on the defensive in the second half, but sprang forward long enough to get a good goal chance of their own. Gary Duffy provided the opening, lofting a teasing 66th minute cross into the box for John McCormack, but his backpost header looped over.

Turning point

The real turning point in the game came just three minutes later, when AC goalkeeper Denis Dowd was given his marching orders for a second yellow. The dismissal, given for alleged time-wasting, was a harsh call on the city side. It also turned out to be a double negative; as well as losing a man, the card gave Thomastown the incentive to go all-out on the attack.

That said, Stephen Hayes did his best to dent their hopes when he made a fine save to deny Derek Lanigan an equaliser on 79 minutes, but the pressure finally told as AC leaked those two goals in five minutes.

Victory leaves Thomastown in second place in the table, five points behind Clover United but with two games in hand on the Rathdowney men. The result has ended Newpark’s hopes of promotion, as third-placed Callan United are now the only other side who can go up to the top flight next season.

Interestingly, Callan will face Thomastown on Sunday in what could be their most important game of the season. Callan must win what will be their last league game of the season, a result which will push them a point above Thomastown. As for United, they know two wins from their final two games are a must if they are to get their hands on the trophy.

Thomastown United A: Paul Dunne, Kevin O’Neill, Paul Dempsey, Davy Wemyss, Richie Bolger, Eamon Lyster, Andy Kavanagh, Derek Lanigan, Davy Prendergast (Stephen Connolly, 5 mins), Dessie Walsh, Barry Maher (Marty Lawrence, 15 mins).

AC Kilkenny A: Denis Dowd, Stephen Hayes, David Tyrrell, Adrian Kenny, Darren Hayes, Ian Ryan, Gary Duffy, Warren Kavanagh, James Geoghegan, John McCormack, Karl Jenkins (Matthew Kavanagh, 83 mins).

Referee: Pat Walsh.