Daragh Walshe (Evergreen) battles with Aaron Caplin (Boyle Celtic) during the FAI Junior Cup semi-final at The Showgrounds. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile
You could almost hear a pin drop as Niall Andrews stepped forward to take his side’s fifth penalty in a tense FAI Junior Cup shootout.
With his side leading 3-2 and just one kick away from the biggest day in Irish junior soccer, the Evergreen captain could have been forgiven for having some butterflies as he strode forward into pressure-cooker atmosphere that enveloped The Showgrounds, but he was coolness personified.
Having made his mind up Andrews picked his spot, firing the ball into the bottom right corner. There was silence for a split-second – and then delirious celebrations!
Eighteen years of heartbreak, disappointment and defeat were wiped away by that one sweet right-footed strike from Andrews. Having dared to dream for close to two decades, Evergreen had achieved their wish – they were on their way to the FAI Junior Cup final!
A thrilling journey on the road to the Aviva Stadium took Packie Holden’s side West to Sligo Rovers’ home, and a meeting with Roscommon’s Boyle Celtic on Sunday.
After 110 tense minutes of nail-biting action, the sides decided to ‘torture’ their supporters with more torment – a penalty shootout.
Backed by a huge crowd, Boyle Celtic were boosted when netminder Kyle Suffin got down low to his left to stop Mikey Drennan’s kick, but the Celtic cheers were cut short when Danny Browne thundered his strike off the crossbar.
Evergreen had been given a reprieve and didn’t look back. Tommy Earls handed them the advantage when he hammered his kick high and to the right, before Holden dived to his right to beat Gerry McDermottroe’s kick to safety.
With the advantage now theirs, Holden’s side didn’t let up. Daragh Walshe and Conor English both converted their kicks, as did Aaron Murren (but only after Holden got a hand to the ball) and Niall Brennan, but the final was within their grasp when Niall Andrews stepped up for their fifth penalty.
The tense finish was at odds to the cagey start the game went through, as both sides took their time to find their feet.
Evergreen pressed well from the opening, pushing Celtic back on their heels, but they couldn’t find a way through.
The best of the early chances fell Boyle’s way. Niall Brennan did well to control a raking free, flicking the ball past the challenge from Dylan Whearty, but he lashed his eighth minute shot over the bar.
Brennan was a real threat in the early stages, and went close again a few minutes later. Strong running from Dessie Carlos took Celtic deep into Evergreen territory, the ball eventually finding its way to Brennan. He seemed certain to shoot, but Conor English tracked back to snuff out the danger.
Celtic were growing in confidence, but Evergreen showed they could muster a chance out of nothing. The Kilkenny side survived a real scare when Dylan Whearty overhit a back-pass, one which Holden did well to control with his head, before launching a long clearance.
The ball found its way downfield towards Sean Barcoe, who found space on the edge of the box to shoot, but his 13th minute strike posed no problems for Celtic netminder Kyle Suffin.
Boyle began to get to grips with the game after that, helped in no small way by their composed defence. The back four proved to be a solid unit, the central pairing of Sean Purcell and John Connolly shutting down the central route to goal while the pace of full-backs Dessie Carlos and Gerry McDermottroe began to cause Evergreen some problems as they ran hard down the flanks.
After more than 30 minutes of shadow-boxing, the breakthrough finally came after Evergreen were undone by some strong Boyle pressure.
Full-back Dessie Carlos did the damage, chasing down a Robbie Quan back-pass and harrying Holden as he raced out to the ball.
The netminder tried to clear his lines, but saw his kick bounce off Carlos. Holden dived to recover the ball, but only succeeded in bringing the Boyle defender down. Penalty!
There was bedlam in The Showgrounds as the spot-kick was awarded, but Danny Browne didn’t feel the pressure. He was ice-cool, sending Holden the wrong way from 12 yards. The Boyle fans erupted with delight.
Evergreen were stung by that goal, but raised their spirits before half-time. Lee Delaney created a chance out of nothing, making space on the right before cutting in and whipping a menacing cross over the heads of the Boyle defence. Sean Barcoe did well to get his head to the ball, nodding it down towards the back post, but Kyle Suffin got down to stop the ball, snapping up the rebound before Barcoe could pounce.
Evergreen stepped up the pace in the second half, bringing on Daragh Walshe to strengthen their attacking options. They were quick to use the new threat, Conor English sliding a tempting ball across the box for Walshe to race at, but the sub was flagged offside.
Evergreen kept up their search for a way back into the game, going close with a quick double nine minutes into the new half. Mikey Drennan sparked panic when he whipped in a free for Niall Andrews to head across the box, but Robbie Quan’s shot was deflected out for a corner.
The defensive duo teamed up again from the resulting set-piece, Andrews getting his head to English’s corner and directing the ball into Quan’s path, but Kyle Suffin read the danger and reacted accordingly.
Boyle stepped up the pace after that, almost doubling their lead through some Evergreen hesitancy. They charged down a throw-in back to Holden, keeping the ball close to the box, but Danny Browne was fouled as he moved in to strike. Shane Battles had a chance to push his side two up from the resulting free, but he blasted his 60th minute effort into the wall, then sent the rebound sky-high.
Evergreen stepped up the tempo after that scare, stringing together a move that almost got them back into the game. Another Drennan free ruffled the feathers of the Boyle defence. Sean Barcoe flicked the ball on, but Conor English’s shot was blocked.
Evergreen refused to let their momentum cool, recycling the ball through Robbie Quan, but Daragh Walshe’s shot was blocked by Boyle captain Loughlainn Conboy, who forced the ball to safety
Boyle had been under pressure, but finally cracked with 20 minutes left on the clock. The Roscommon side had been aware of the threat Evergreen possessed from set-pieces, but could do little when one finally broke their spirit.
Tommy Earls moved over to the left to take a 70th minute throw-in, a move that paid off. His booming diagonal delivery sailed into the box. Mikey Drennan read the cross and ghosted in at the back post to sweep the ball home.
Suddenly, The Showgrounds was silent, save for the roars from the Evergreen players and their bench as they raced to greet Drennan. It was a goal which left Boyle reeling.
That said, Celtic rallied and tried to get back in the lead. They went within a whisker of restoring their advantage when McDermottroe fizzed in a menacing 73rd minute free from the right of the box, but his swirling effort clattered off the Evergreen crossbar. The full-back went close again with another effort eight minutes later, his left foot creating more havoc, but this time his free flashed over the wall and away from the target.
Both sides had chances to settle the game as the tie moved into five minutes of nerve-shredding injury time. Boyle were first up, Niall Brennan whipping in an inviting cross, but sub Aaron Murren was a whisker away from getting on the end of the delivery.
The pendulum swung Evergreen’s way after that, but like Boyle they couldn’t find that decisive finish. Daragh Walshe went close – really close – when he dashed on to Sean Barcoe’s pass and sprinted from half-way in the 95th minute. Walshe did well to hold off the challenge from the chasing Mick Corrigan (who had a tug at the Evergreen man’s shirt), but one touch too many gave Kyle Suffin time to sprint from his line and snuff out the danger.
That was as close as either side came to snatching a winner. The emotion of the day, not to mention the lure of making the final, made for a cautious 20 minutes of extra-time. Boyle’s best chance came when McDermottroe fired in a 101st minute corner which Packie Holden had to sweep away from under his crossbar, while Drennan saw his glancing 107th minute header flash just wide of the target.
Instead, the drama went all the way to the final round of penalties. Niall Andrews held his nerve – Evergreen were on their way!
Evergreen: Packie Holden; Robbie Quan, Dylan Whearty, Niall Andrews, Tommy Earls; Brian Jordan, Lee Delaney (Daragh Walshe, 46 mins); Chris Whearty (Ben Hickey, 64 mins; Declan McQuillan for Hickey, 94 mins), Sean Barcoe (Sammy Johnston, 96 mins), Conor English; Mikey Drennan.
Boyle Celtic: Kyle Suffin; Gerry McDermottroe, John Connolly, Sean Purcell, Dessie Carlos; Luke Roddy (Aaron Caplin, 71 mins), Loughlainn Conboy (Aaron Murren, 71 mins), Mick Corrigan, Shane Battles; Danny Browne, Niall Brennan.
Referee: Paul Duddy. Assistants: Terence Moyne, Marty McGarrigan (all Donegal).
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