Nerves of steel and boundless reserves of energy proved vital in victory as Evergreen marched into semi-finals of the FAI Youths’ Cup.
The Kilkenny side had to battle over 110 minutes to get the better of a thriller with Athlone’s Willow Park at the Kells Road on Sunday.
In a tough encounter, both sides deserved the plaudits for playing a game at a terrific pace. Willow Park are an excellent side and they really fancied their chances at scoring a double over their Kilkenny counterparts, having beaten Evergreen a month ago in the Leinster Youths’ Cup.
The hosts were determined not to let that happen and started brightly, forcing Willow Park to defend deep in the first 10 minutes.
Evergreen had some half-chances from a number of corners but the Willow defence held firm, Eoin Fox and Josh Carney playing well for the visitors, who had their hands full coping with the aerial presence of Dylan Drennan, a big threat in the opening period.
Having survived those testing moments Park came back into the game, with their excellent passing game beginning to cause Evergreen some problems. Willow’s hugely talented midfielder Evan Dalton began to press for openings, and it was Dalton who gave the visitors the lead when he crashed home a well-struck free-kick just inside the post on 22 minutes.
The rest of the half was an even contest, with Ronan Coffey and Robbie Buckley going close for Evergreen on a number of occasions. However, they were thankful for the athleticism of their goalkeeper Aidan Hynes for keeping them in the game when he pulled off a remarkable double save on the stroke of half-time to prevent Cathal Callinan from doubling Willow’s lead.
Buoyed by that super Hynes save, Evergreen started the second half with renewed vigour. Mark Slater and Dylan Drennan swapped positions, Slater giving a powerful display as he controlled the midfield area.
Willow were still extremely dangerous on the counter-attack, but Evergreen were now on top. Ben Hickey and Eoin McGovern came close, but that equaliser was proving elusive. Pressing on, the hosts got their reward on the hour when Slater took a pass from Robbie Hennessy and switched play to Bobby Walsh. Breaking through, Walsh kept his cool before slotting home the leveller.
With the game hanging in the balance both teams pushed hard for the winner, but couldn’t find it before the end of the 90 minutes, sending the game into extra-time.
There was no let-up when it came to action, but it was Evergreen who forced home their initiative in extra-time.
Still level after half-time the ’Greens went in front when they were awarded a penalty in the second period, Slater confidently slotting the spot-kick home.
Rattled by this, Willow Park lost their composure and a player for a straight red offence. When they lost a second player the game was now effectively over, but Jamie Conway made sure when he smashed home an unstoppable shot to seal the victory in the last minute against nine-man Park.
Evergreen’s reward is a home semi-final tie against St Kevin’s. The match will be played on the weekend of April 20/21.
Evergreen: Aidan Hynes, Jamie Conway, Robbie Hennessy, Aidan Tuohy, Mark Slater, Dylan Drennan, Bobby-Joe Walsh, Eoin McGovern, Ronan Coffey, Robbie Buckley, Ben Hickey. Subs: Brian Busher, Gaby Lapuste, Tim Cummins, Nick Brennan, Darby Fuamby, Eoin Kelly, Christian Lapuste.
Willow Park: Cian Bamford, Miko Alo, Matt Dooley, Eoin Fox, Paddy Slater, Josh Carney, Evan Dalton, Cathal Callinan, Claudio de Silva, Jamie Fahy, Eric Kearney.