It may be approaching the business end of the season, but Evergreen A are beginning to find their stride at the right time.
Still in the hunt for a fifth successive Premier Division title, not to mention the McCalmont Cup, Eddie McEvoy’s side got a confidence-boosting win to keep themselves ticking over as they bagged the Maher Shield in convincing fashion on Sunday.
There was an ominous air about the ’Green as they saw off city rivals Newpark to spoils (a win that kept the title in the club after Evergreen B’s success last year).
Although they have league games to make up on other sides they look like a team hitting top form. They gave a polished performance in Derdimus, putting the shackles on a Newpark side who have troubled many over the season.
It wasn’t to be their day this time, however, as Evergreen took an early grip on the game and never released it.
Brian Jordan saw to that, showing strength and pace to give his side a 12th minute lead.
Sent on his way by Damien Kelly - who pulled the strings in midfield all afternoon - Jordan chased a ball that was whipped down the right flank. Shrugging off his marker, Jordan controlled the ball and cut inside, leaving two defenders in his wake as he skipped into the box.
It looked like the chance was gone when Jordan cut left to try and dodge the advancing netminder Stephen Buckley but the striker remained cool, clipping a low shot inside the left post.
It was a perfect release for any tension Evergreen might have felt, especially as Newpark looked determined to attack from the off.
That tactic almost paid off in lightning-quick fashion, as John Hayes proved inside five minutes when he deftly controlled a high ball and threaded it through for Henry O’Neill to chase.
O’Neill burst into the box and delivered a curling shot from the left, but Pierce Dargan got down smartly to save.
The pace of the game was relentless in the early stages, with the action flowing from end to end. The sides proved as much when, in the 10th minute, they both created chances within seconds.
Evergreen went first, Niall Andrews sending a glancing header just off-target following a teasing Jamie Owens corner. Michael Comerford picked the ball up in midfield and sent Tony Delaney on his way, but his shot was deflected to safety.
Jordan’s goal was a real blow for Newpark, but was made worse as they lost defender Darren Hayes to injury at the same time.
Sensing an uneasiness in their rivals, Evergreen pressed for another goal. Sean Barcoe went close to grabbing that, moving in to collect Jordan’s lay-off, but his venomous 22nd minute shot flashed over the top right corner.
They made better use of their next chance, strengthening their grip on the Shield when they made it 2-0 inside the half hour. Awarded a free after Grincell was fouled on the left side of the box, Jamie Owens caught Newpark cold when he spotted a gap and struck, whipping a low ball across the six-yard box and inside the far right post.
Newpark were reeling after that goal and almost conceded more. Barcoe sent a powerful header spinning over the bar on 33 minutes while, five minutes later, Jordan nipped in to intercept Ray Meagher’s headed back-pass, but the striker’s clever header flashed wide.
Newpark regained their composure, but couldn’t find a route to goal. They went close, Delaney latching on to Ger Wall’s throw-in and making room in the corner to fizz in a low cross, but Tommy Comerford was a whisker away from adding the finishing touch.
Newpark rang the changes at half-time, bringing in Shane O’Neill to add more power to their attack. The move looked to have paid off, as they troubled Evergreen, but when they lost Tommy Comerford to injury they were forced to change plans again.
It didn’t help that within seconds of Comerford limping out of the game Newpark were three down. Despite calls from their defence to watch the back post no-one was in position to stop Vinny O’Brien from ghosting in to get a convincing header to Chris Whearty’s angled free-kick.
Newpark were down, but didn’t give up. A quick reply would have given them hope but a green and white defensive wall kept out Stephen Dawson’s 58th minute glancing header. The danger wasn’t fully over, as Newpark recycled the ball for Michael Comerford to cross it back in, but Shane O’Neill’s header was deflected out for a corner.
Still Newpark pressed and pressed. Henry O’Neill saw his 65th minute snapshot rise over the bar, while John Hayes tested Pierce Dargan with a menacing free which the ’keeper had to punch clear.
The game slipped from Newpark’s grasp when they were reduced to 10 men with 12 minutes to play, Shane O’Neill getting a straight red for an altercation with Robbie Quan. That left them with a mountain to climb and Evergreen with enough room to drop the pace of the game and comfortably await the final whistle.
Evergreen A: Pierce Dargan, Tommy Earls, Robbie Quan (Dylan Whearty, 79 mins), Niall Andrews, Damien Kelly, Sean Barcoe, Jamie Owens (John Brett, 83 mins), Vinny O’Brien, Chris Whearty, David Grincell, Brian Jordan (Ciaran Snype, 68 mins).
Newpark A: Stephen Buckley, Tommy Comerford (Sean Falsey, 50 mins), Ger Wall, Darren Hayes (Stephen Dawson, 13 mins), Ray Meagher (Shane O’Neill, 46 mins), Dean Woods, Michael Comerford, Tommy Donovan, John Hayes, Henry O’Neill, Tony Delaney.
Referee: Ollie Falsey. Linesmen: Pat Geoghegan, Pat O’Connor.