To be the best you have to beat the best. That was the harsh lesson Evergreen learned after their Leinster Junior Cup journey juddered to a halt.
Kingpins in Kilkenny they may be, but the Premier Division champions were made to look mortal as Dublin’s Sheriff YC mercilessly gunned them down at the Kells Road on Sunday.
No doubt, the heavy defeat will have stung Evergreen. The most frustrating aspect will be the manner in which they shipped some of the five goals, Sheriff stringing together moves (and taking chances) that made them look a class above their rivals.
Facing off against a side who are the reigning Leinster and FAI Junior Cup champions, the odds were always going to be stacked against Evergreen.
Sheriff proved as much, giving a display which reinforced their tag as favourites for the silverware again.
That’s not to say that the hosts didn’t give the opposition a few scares. The highlight of the day came in the 18th minute, when Chris Whearty lit up the Kells Road with a flash of brilliance.
Controlling Robbie Quan’s pass out of defence, Whearty picked up play on the half-way line and set off. Leaving two defenders in his wake, he skipped infield and worked his way across the face of the box, pausing only to blast a low curling shot beyond Peter Halpin’s outstretched left hand.
The goal was a setback for a Sheriff side who had opened brightly and showed glimpses of the threat they possessed in attack. The game was only two minutes old when Paul Murphy’s clever throw-in was worked on by John Rock to Darren Dunne, who caught Evergreen cold with a quick ball through to Keith Dunne.
A deft touch saw Dunne split the defence and bear down on goal, but Pierce Dargan made a good stop with his feet.
The hosts were tested again on 12 minutes, when Sheriff again broke at pace. Darren Dunne sparked panic in the Evergreen ranks when he sprayed a ball outside to Stephen Larkin on the left. His speed took him inside Tommy Earls’ challenge, but his shot flashed wide of the far post.
Evergreen weathered the storm, making the perfect reply when Whearty stunned Sheriff with his scintillating goal.
However, the upbeat mood was flattened within five minutes. Turning just inside the box to collect John Lester’s pass, Keith Dunne went down when he felt the incoming challenge from Jamie Owens.
It was a soft penalty to concede. Evergreen were left to feel the sting as Sheriff seized on an easy route back into the game, Rock making no mistake from 12 yards out.
The goal revitalised Sheriff, who set about pushing on and forcing Evergreen to defend a little deeper.
With pressure mounting, Sheriff pounced when Evergreen cracked. The hosts were undone when they stalled while waiting for an offside call that never came after Sean Murphy’s 33rd minute ball went through to Keith Dunne.
With no-one making the challenge, Dunne saw his chance and took it. Stealing into the box, he waited for Dargan to make his move before sticking the ball inside the netminder’s left post.
A testing time for Evergreen, things didn’t get any easier as Sheriff went close to snapping up a third goal. A mix-up at the back saw the Kilkenny side allow Larkin to pick up possession and feed Rock. He slipped the ball through for Dunne to hammer a first-time shot, but much to Evergreen’s relief his effort was off-target.
The day didn’t look like getting any better for Evergreen, who suffered another blow when striker Brian Jordan limped out of the game six minutes before half-time. However, the reshuffled side almost fought their way back into the game.
Pushed up into midfield, Robbie Quan almost produced a spectacular equaliser three minutes before the break. Winning the contest for a high ball, Quan unleashed a thumping drive which screamed towards goal, but somehow netminder Peter Halpin got up to claw the ball out of the top left corner.
Evergreen maintained that enthusiasm into the second half, using it to fashion another golden chance. Awarded a free dead centre in front of goal, Chris Whearty let fly with a 30 yard effort that seemed destined for the net.
The ball swerved and sped towards goal, but Halpin reached up to push the ball over from under his crossbar.
Sensing there was a chance to get back into the game, Evergreen kept pouring forward. They went very close to doing that again when, with 52 minutes on the clock, Tommy Earls forced Jason Quan’s diagonal free back across the box.
The ball was skilfully taken down by David Grincell, who got his shot off despite the acute angle inside the six yard box, but Halpin spread himself well to make the block.
The hosts continued to make chances, but while they got past the Sheriff defence they couldn’t beat Halpin.
The ’keeper came to the Dubliners’ rescue again just after the hour. Pierce Dargan’s booming free was won by Sean Barcoe, who headed the ball down into Grincell’s path. After taking a touch to control it, Grincell cracked the ball towards the bottom left corner of the net, but somehow Halpin got down to turn it around the post.
The danger wasn’t fully over as, from the resulting corner, Jamie Owens fired in a dangerous ball. Niall Andrews got up highest to win the aerial battle, but he couldn’t stop his header from clearing the bar.
Sheriff had drifted out of the game in the second half, but stepped up the pace once they’d made a few changes from the bench. Revitalised in attack, they quickly set about restoring their authority on the game.
However, it was one of their defensive stars who provided the ammunition. With 68 minutes on the clock left full-back Joe O’Neill won the ball inside his own half on the left touchline, then carved Evergreen open with a peach of a cross for Keith Dunne.
Splitting the central defenders, Dunne killed the ball with his first touch. His second was deadly, as he coolly slipped the ball beyond Dargan.
O’Neill was involved again just four minutes later, as Sheriff put the game to bed. Moving up the flank he fed the ball to sub Kevin Lynch, who found time and space to put in a low cross.
Fellow sub Alan McCabe teed up John Rock for a crack at goal, but his effort was stopped by Dargan. Evergreen failed to react in time, however, giving Keith Dunne the chance to ram in the rebound and complete his hat-trick.
The crowd started to drift away after that fourth goal, but worse was to follow. With heads dropping, Evergreen were also reduced to ten men when Jason Quan earned two yellow cards in quick succession, the dismissal leaving them with a mountain to climb in the last 15 minutes.
Not that Sheriff eased off the gas. They tormented Evergreen, humbling them by adding a fifth goal in the final five minutes, John Rock smashing home a venomous volley after Paul Murphy’s lung-busting run down the right flank ended with a pinpoint cross.
On a day to forget, the final whistle couldn’t come soon enough for Evergreen.
Note: While the result didn’t go their way, credit must go to Michael Hennessy and the Evergreen club for the immaculate condition of the pitch on Sunday - hard to believe the game was played on a pitch which had been churned up by a Maher Shield quarter-final just seven days earlier.
Evergreen: Pierce Dargan, Tommy Earls, Jason Quan, Niall Andrews, Robbie Quan (Mark Slater, 81 mins), Damien Kelly, David Grincell, Jamie Owens, Brian Jordan (Dylan Whearty, 39 mins), Sean Barcoe, Chris Whearty (Ben Hickey, 87 mins).
Sheriff YC: Peter Halpin, Paul Murphy, Joe O’Neill, David Browne, John Lester, Darren O’Brien (Kevin Lynch, 67 mins), Sean Murphy, Darren Dunne, Keith Dunne (Christopher Clarke, 76 mins), John Rock, Stephen Larkin (Alan McCabe, 67 mins).
Referee: Ollie Falsey. Linesmen: Nicky Marnell, Packie Geoghegan.