The race is almost on the home straight, but Thomastown United aren’t about to drop their pace just yet.
Long-time leaders of the Premier Division, United took another step towards getting their hands on that long-awaited title, delivering six of the best against Freebooters A on a wind-swept Sunday morning.
Forget the fact that this was a depleted Freebooters side - injuries and absentees have left them very light in terms of numbers - a big performance was still needed against a traditional rival from the hosts, who are on the brink of their first top-flight title in 30-plus years.
Even so, United must have been amazed at how quickly they tore into the opposition. Starting with the very strong wind at their backs, Thomastown took just four minutes to hit the lead.
Linking up with strike partner Nathan Sherry, Steven Connolly left his marker for dead when he zipped in from the left side of the box and coolly clipped a curling shot into the far side of the net, whipping the ball beyond the reach of Michael Lambert.
The goal was just the start Thomastown had dreamed of making - and they had no intentions of slowing down. C.J. Browne proved as much, using the wind to whip in a right wing free that caused havoc in the ’Booters box. The gale took the ball to the far left, where Sherry slid in at the back post, but he couldn’t keep his shot on target.
Freebooters found the going tough in the opening quarter, but hit back with a clever counter-attack. Sam Watkins carved the hosts open with a cutting ball, one that fell perfectly for Ger Hayes to race on to, but he crashed his 16th minute shot into the side netting.
That little scare jolted Thomastown back into the life - and how! They doubled their in style after 23 minutes when David Kavanagh stood over a free-kick awarded on the left corner of the box. There was little else but the back of the net in Kavanagh’s mind, which he proved with a wickedly-struck shot that screamed into the top left corner.
United were in rampant mood now, and could have all but wrapped up the points with half an hour on the clock. Given a clear sight of goal after a Connolly strike broke into his path Mick O’Neill should have hit the back of the net, but lashed his close range shot wide.
The miss mattered little, as O’Neill atoned for his error just 60 seconds later. Pouncing after a Lambert punch fell his way, O’Neill slammed the loose ball home. There was still the best part of an hour left on the clock, but United already looked set for victory.
With the points seemingly already secured it was no surprise to see the game’s tempo drop, but Thomastown weren’t about to let the game die off altogether.
Things got worse for ’Booters when they lost Paddy Cahill to a second yellow card after the hour. Weakened by his absence, Freebooters were over-ran in the middle as Thomastown stepped up their efforts once more.
The final quarter was a real show of strength from United, who racked up a late glut of goals to put a real gloss on their performance.
David Prendergast got in on the act, adding the finishing touch to Sean Brennan’s angled pass when he slipped a low shot beyond Michael Lambert with 17 minutes to play.
United kept on the hunt for goals, adding a fifth when Mick O’Neill charged past centre-backs Niall McEvoy and David Rice before lofting the ball over the advancing Lambert in the closing stages.
O’Neill had a memorable day, finding time to complete his hat-trick two minutes from the end. The goal owed plenty to the hard work of Steven Connolly, who chased after a loose ball and drove back to the end line, before his low pass was skilfully turned home at the near post by the midfielder.
It was a day to remember for the champions-elect, with all their players wearing broad smiles at the final whistle. One more win and those smiles will be even bigger!
Thomastown United A: Paul Dunne (Davy Wemyss, 74 mins), Neil O’Mara, Paul Dempsey, Derek Brennan, C.J. Browne, Eamon Lyster, David Kavanagh, Mick O’Neill, Nathan Sherry (Sean Brennan, 67 mins), Steven Connolly, David Prendergast (Kelvyn Skehan, 84 mins).
Freebooters A: Michael Lambert, Jack Deegan, James Kelly, Niall McEvoy, David Rice, Sam Watkins (Shane Maher, 68 mins), Ger Hayes, Paddy Cahill, Jason Hennessy, Aaron Molloy, Kevin Ireland.
Referee: Ollie Falsey.