Stoneyford’s hopes of ending their time in Division One with some silverware were dashed as Clover United spoiled their going-away party.
Winners of a promotion playoff which will see them back in the Premier Division next term, Stoney’ were hoping to sign off by picking up the Division One Cup at Derdimus on Saturday.
However, no-one in the Rathdowney camp read the script. Clover were the real party-poopers, but deserved to win the title thanks to a superb team performance - and a sensational goal that sent them roaring into the lead.
Pace, and a well-placed ball, did the trick as Clover stormed into the lead midway through the first half. Caught by Darragh Carroll’s excellent ball over the top, the Stoneyford defence were left flat-footed as Damien Madden sprang the offside trap and chased after the ball.
Goalkeeper Brian O’Shea saw the danger, racing from his line to boot the ball away, but his clearance fell to full-back Sean Delaney just inside half-way.
Pausing only to look up, Delaney unleashed a lofted shot that flew over the stranded O’Shea and beat two defenders who had raced back to get on the line.
The goal had been coming, at least from a Clover point of view. The Rathdowney side might have struggled in the league, but they were anything but sluggish in this decider, taking the game to their rivals.
They gave Stoneyford an early warning, their pace causing all sorts of headaches. Mark Daly thought he had given his side a ninth minute lead when he picked up Kieran Bowe’s defence-splitting pass and burst into the box, but O’Shea stuck out his left foot and somehow deflected the low shot away to safety.
Clover continued to hold the upper hand when it came to chances - Stoneyford’s best effort came earlier, when James Moran flicked a header at ’keeper Johnny Browne - but couldn’t break the deadlock. The impressive Stephen Finan went close, getting off 21st minute a half-volley, but his shot flashed wide.
Delaney’s goal was a real shot in the arm, the strike giving Clover the encouragement to press for more. They almost bagged another 60 seconds after the first, when Daly twisted and turned his way into shooting space, but his strike sizzled over the bar.
It was a frustrating evening for Stoneyford, for whom little had gone right since kick-off. A defensive header almost provided Clover with the chance to grab another goal, as Daly intercepted the ball and flicked it over the outrushing O’Shea, but his 38th minute effort cleared the bar.
Stoneyford did shake things up in the closing stages, but it wasn’t enough to get back on level terms. It took a fine challenge from Darragh Fitzpatrick to prevent Martin Murray from pouncing on James Moran’s inch-perfect pass.
Eamon Foley did get a shot away, taking down Brian Donovan’s corner on his chest and getting away a dipping half-volley, but the 45th minute shot was well handled by Browne.
Clover were back on the offensive in the second half, sending out an early warning. Damien Madden gave Stoney’ a scare when he drilled a long range free-kick at the target, but Brian O’Shea managed to finger-tip the ball over the bar.
Clover showed a liking for the long range efforts, with another leading to their second goal with 57 minutes on the clock. Stephen Finan let fly with a thundering effort that O’Shea did well to parry away, but Kieran Bowe was alive to the danger, pouncing to turn the loose ball home.
Clover were full value for the two-goal lead, much of that thanks to the offensive running of Bowe and Daly’s clever play. Stoneyford tried hard to get back into the game - the introduction of Joey Gahan on the left certainly helped - but they couldn’t get the goal they needed to force their way back into the game. A miserable evening was compounded when Eamon Foley was dismissed for two quick yellow cards, while Conor Coffey lashed his injury-time penalty over the bar.
It was a day to forget for the Premier Division’s new boys - but Clover found the silver lining.
Clover United A: Johnny Browne, Sean Delaney, Darragh Fitzpatrick, David Poynton, Darragh Carroll, Damien Madden (Enda Maher, 90 mins), Stephen Finan, Mark Treacy, Kieran Bowe, Ray Bowe, Mark Daly (Paddy Carroll, 90 mins).
Stoneyford United: Brian O’Shea, Tommy O’Leary (Adam Fennelly, 72 mins), Jamie Molyneaux, Ciaran Roche (John O’Shea, 61 mins), Liam Walsh, Brian Donovan, Kelvyn Mguni, Eamon Foley, Martin Murray, James Moran, Conor Coffey (Joseph Gahan, 46 mins).
Referee: Nicky Marnell. Linesmen: Lee Kill, Mitch Corrigan.