THE COMPETITION has been full of shocks all season, so it should be no surprise that the latest round of the McCalmont Cup had another upset at the weekend.
Freebooters A saw their hopes of winning the Cup for the third year in a row come to a halt as Callan United travelled into the city and went home with a place in the semi-finals after scoring a 3-1 win.
“The Fair Green has been a bit of a graveyard for us,” said Callan boss Peter Kearney. “As far as I can recall it’s the first time we have beaten the Freebooters A team in the Fair Green.”
The win also completed a memorable double for United. They got past Evergreen A in an earlier round, so have sent the Premier Division’s top two packing from the league’s big cup competition.
The visitors made the best start possible, taking the lead after 15 minutes. Tony Delaney provided the opening, whipping in a cross to the centre of the box. Matthew Houlihan was quickest to react, beating team-mate Simon Burke to the finish.
Callan kept that lead until well into the second half, frustrating the hosts until the closing stages. Goalkeeper Eoin Wall played his part, but even he couldn’t prevent the Blues from grabbing a late equaliser.
Awarded a free close to the box, Dessie Hayes gave Anthony Hanney’s side a real boost - and Wall no chance - when he fired an unstoppable shot into the top corner.
Even Kearney admitted that the goal was something else.
“It was a great free-kick,” he said. “I felt that it was going to take something special to beat Eoin, and that’s just what Dessie did.”
Rather than drive Freebooters on, the goal spurred Callan on to a grandstand finish. Within minutes, they were back in front. The visitors profited from set-piece, Cathal Byrne connecting with a flying header at a corner before Delaney added the finishing touch.
“When Freebooters scored I thought that would be it,” said Kearney. “Our lads were beginning to tire, but our second goal gave us a new lease of life.”
The goal did more than inspire Callan - it led to a third goal. Forced to up the ante Freebooters pushed forward in an effort to find a second equaliser, but were caught on the counter-attack.
Breaking from midfield, Simon Burke beat the last defender before coolly finishing.
The goal capped a fine performance from Burke, who has revitalised the team since his return.
“Simon came back to us in January, having started the season in the Floodlit League,” the manager added. “Since then we’ve lost only once and he’s scored more than a dozen goals.”
Despite beating the Premier Division and McCalmont Cup champions Callan haven’t started to celebrate too soon. Their reward is another Premier Division opponent, the 2007 Cup champions Lions A.
“It was a brilliant result for us, just like the Evergreen game,” added Kearney. “But as we said in the dressing-room after Sunday’s game they’ll count for nothing if we were to lose the semi-final.”
That game against the Lions also marks the first time in 26 years that Callan United have reached the semi-finals of the Cup. In 1986 they went on to feature in the final, but lost to Evergreen.
“It’s been 40 years since Callan won the McCalmont Cup,” added Kearney. “You could say we’re long overdue another.”
Top flight team
The Lions are the last top flight team left in the competition. The Durrow side got past East End United A, but needed penalties to do that after the game finished at 1-1.
Just like in their 2007 final win over Freebooters, goalkeeper Paul Shortall played his part in the win. Lee Campion, Niall Brophy and Shane McCann all netted for the hosts. East End hit the post twice, while Shortall saved their third kick as the Lions roared through. The remaining semi-final berths have been taken by Division One sides.
Thomastown United A were the first team to book their place in the final four, as they beat AC Kilkenny A on Friday.
Derek Lanigan’s penalty proved enough to decide the game at the Waterbarracks - an appropriate venue as both sides endured torrential rain across the evening.
Newpark United are the last city side left standing after they beat Evergreen B in the derby. Henry O’Neill, Kevin Morrissey and Shane O’Neill grabbed the goals to set up a second Cup clash with Thomastown United - the two sides have also been paired together in the Division One Cup.
The first McCalmont Cup semi-final will see Thomastown United take on Newpark on Saturday, May 5. Callan United will play the Lions A team a week later. Both games will be played in Derdimus and have 6pm kick-off times.