They left it late - really, really, really late! - but Evergreen’s entertaining adventure in this season’s Leinster Junior Cup continues!
A stellar comeback from the Kilkenny side, capped by Chris Whearty’s injury-time goal, ensured their safe passage to the next round of the provincial competition in what was a captivating cup clash.
The conditions on the Kells Road were far from ideal on a wet and miserable Sunday afternoon, yet the city side served up a fantastic second half display to clinch their place over Dublin side Grange United.
The visitors had a two goal advantage leading into the final half hour, yet tactical switches by the Evergreen management made the three goal comeback possible.
With both sides playing a standard 4-4-2 the game always promised to be a physical encounter, yet Evergreen’s clever link up play meant they unlocked the opposition’s defence on a regular basis.
For the first hour, however, they failed to convert any of their chances. It was only when they switched their formation to 3-4-3 that the floodgates opened. The introduction of the fleet-footed Ben Hickey proved a masterstroke, as he fed off the second ball played to him by front man Sean Barloe.
As good as the ending was, Evergreen found themselves in a horrible position at the start. With just five minutes played a splitting ball from deep in the Grange half exposed the Evergreen defence. Centre-forward Kevin Farrell took full advantage of the momentary lapse in concentration and coolly finished to put his side 1-0 ahead.
For the rest of half Evergreen took control of the play, but failed to apply the finishing touch time after time. Left-back Vinny O’Brien and left midfielder Chris Whearty were playing some lovely flowing football, O’Brien galloping forward at every possible opportunity. They looked the most dangerous elements in each Evergreen attack, with right winger Ciaran Snype also providing a bit of flair.
A through ball from Whearty found Snype and his shot just flew the wrong side of the left upright, crashing into the side netting, Evergreen’s first notable chance of the game. Keith Lacy had an effort saved for Grange United, their only chance since their goal. After that, Evergreen resumed control. A Vinny O’Brien goal was ruled out for offside, much to the dismay of many of the Evergreen supporters, who believed he had been onside when Dylan Whearty played the low ball through the centre.
A long range shot from Chris Whearty was dealt with unconvincingly by Grange ’keeper Phillip Russell, but he collected well from the follow-up by Sean Barcoe however and ensured that his side went into the break 1-0 up.
Evergreen had impressed on the flanks in the opening half, but a lack of productivity in the centre cost them dearly when they got in front of goal.
Switching their wingers, Evergreen took to the field for the second half and started in better fashion than they had the first. O’Brien and Snype played a sharp series of passes on the left side, but the eventual effort was parried away.
Grange recovered from that early scare and left Evergreen reeling when they doubled their lead with 65 minutes on the clock.
The Dubliners’ second goal was a lot like their first. A long ball, played from a free-kick, sailed over the heads of the Evergreen defence. Eoin Fowler stooped low and headed the ball into the bottom corner of the net, giving Pierce Dargan no chance to make a save.
That goal might have sunk many sides, but all of a sudden Evergreen were right back in the reckoning. With less than half an hour left to play, target man Barcoe grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck with a stunning finish from outside the box.
Evergreen were now up and running and, after the goal, switched their game to a 3-4-3 formation, with Ben Hickey as a third striker. Chris Whearty and Vinnie O’Brien were the flying wingers, pressing and pressing until they cracked the Grange defence.
Parity was restored with 88 minutes on the clock when a long ball found Barcoe, who played in O’Brien. With the goalkeeper bearing down on him, O’Brien unselfishly squared the ball for Hickey who nudged it over the goal line to leave the sides all square with time running out.
Stunned by that strike, Grange went into freefall. As for the men in hoops, they pressed for a winner and, in the dying seconds of additional time, they found it.
The game was ticking into a fourth minute of injury-time when Chris Whearty moved out to take a corner. With time running out he knew had to deliver, swinging in vicious cross from his left foot. The corner proved to be better than Evergreen could have hoped for, as ’keeper Russell was powerless to stop the ball from going straight into the top corner at his near post.
The incredible comeback was complete - now Evergreen can look forward to a meeting with Sheriff YC in the next stage of their Cup odyssey.
Evergreen: Pierce Dargan, Tommy Earls, Vinny O’Brien, Niall Andrews, Dylan Whearty, Damien Kelly, Chris Whearty, Jamie Owens, Sean Barcoe, David Grincell, Ciaran Snype. Subs: Robbie Quan, Ben Hickey.
Grange United: Phillip Russell, Phillip Doyle, Paul Lacy, Kevin Boyd, Eric Whyte, Stephen Kirwan, Keith Holt, Keith Lacy, Eoin Fowler, Kevin Farrell, Mark Ryan.
Referee: Pat O’Connor. Linesmen: Pat Geoghegan, James Nolan.