A good start might be half the battle, but Freebooters A provided an even better finish to make sure of their place in the McCalmont Cup final.
The reigning title holders, the Blues needed all the resolve of champions to get past a tricky challenge posed by city rivals Newpark A in Derdimus on Sunday.
A classic it wasn’t - but just when it seemed that at least 20 minutes of extra-time would be needed to find a winner, ’Booters popped up with a one-two that left their rivals seeing stars.
The opening goal came from an unlikely source - and in an unlikely fashion. There were just three minutes left on the clock when full-back Jack Poyntz called for team-mate Geoffrey Brennan to release the ball his way.
Cutting in from the right flank, Poyntz jinked past one tackle and then another as he sped towards the edge of the box. Newpark failed to deal with him and paid the price when Poyntz got off a low drive that zipped inside the far left post.
The goal was almost at odds with a game when both sides started in tense manner. There was little in the way of scoring chances in the first quarter, as both teams seemed more intent on winning the midfield battle - which came with some crunching tackles.
When play did open up it was Freebooters who threatened first, Aaron Molloy using his pace to race on to Jason Hennessy’s great diagonal 14th minute pass, but Tom Doyle got back to make a vital block for Newpark.
It didn’t take Newpark long to muster their response. They had started well in terms of their movement, passing the ball around well, but didn’t trouble Michael Lambert until after the 19th minute.
Mark Flynn’s side had their first real effort at goal when Ben Ryan stood over a free-kick on the left of the box. He unleashed a great strike, one which took a nick off a ’Booters defender, but he saw the ball clatter off the crossbar.
The danger wasn’t over for Freebooters - David Grincell reacted quickest, pouncing to stab the rebound towards the net but Michael Lambert recovered his balance in time to make the close range stop.
With Newpark beginning to open their rivals up it was no surprise to see Lambert called into action again within a matter of minutes. Henry O’Neill started the pressure, keeping the ball in around the box before picking out Ger Wall with a low cross.
A neat turn gave Wall time and space to pick his spot from the edge of the box but Lambert got down smartly, diving to his right to make the save.
The Blues went back on the offensive after that, trying their hand with a clever move. Paddy Cahill caught the Newpark defence out when he slipped a free-kick low and to the right of the wall instead of blasting it goalwards.
Geoffrey Brennan was on it in a flash but he was always off-balance when striking the ball, which soared over.
However, it was Lambert who proved to be the busier of the two goalkeepers in that first half. He was called into action again eight minutes before the break when Ben Ryan’s perfect pass to Henry O’Neill split the defence open.
O’Neill took a touch to steady himself, then clipped a low shot that zipped towards the inside of the far right post. Lambert was equal to the shot, getting down to his left to flick the fierce shot over for a corner.
Newpark were first to threaten after the restart and should have taken the lead within eight minutes. Latching on to a Dean Woods free David Grincell did well to control the ball and lose his man at the left post but he delayed his shot, giving Jack Poyntz time to get in and deflect the ball out for a corner.
Mark Ryan’s side were impressive in the early stages of that second half but, for all their work, couldn’t make their efforts count. Mark Flynn’s flick-on almost played Grincell in again five minutes later, but Lambert was quickly down to rob the ball off the striker’s foot.
Grincell was in the thick of things at that stage, and had penalty claims turned down as the game ticked into the last quarter. Racing on to Ryan’s lofted pass Grincell left the central defenders for dead as he sped through. He tried to lob the outrushing Lambert – just as it seemed he was tugged back – but his effort went over the bar while Newpark penalty claims were waved away.
Freebooters had laboured their way through most of the second half, but picked up their efforts as the closing stages loomed. Ger Hayes got them going, firing in a great right-wing cross which Jason Hennessy took on his chest, but his 82nd minute shot flashed over the bar.
The chance was the shot in the arm Freebooters needed, giving them the momentum required to charge on. Poyntz added to that - and how - when he cut in from the right to drill home his 87th minute goal.
Fired up by that strike, the Blues hit back almost instantly to grab a second. Keeping a high line Freebooters won back possession, Hennessy working the ball on to Hayes on the right.
Newpark were caught cold by the speed of the move and could only watch as Hayes zipped a low ball across the face of the six-yard box for Cian Loy to gleefully tap home and secure that final berth on May 31.
Newpark A: Lucas Banaszkiewicz, Darren Hayes, Dean Woods, Tommy Donovan, Tom Doyle (Karl Gleeson, 64 mins), Ben Ryan, Eoin Purcell, Mark Flynn, Ger Wall, David Grincell, Henry O’Neill.
Freebooters A: Michael Lambert, Jack Poyntz, Niall McEvoy, David Rice, James Kelly, Ger Hayes., Paddy Cahill, Geoffrey Brennan, Aaron Molloy, Jason Hennessy (Kevin Ireland, 89 mins), Cian Loy.
Referee: Tristan Eardley. Linesmen: Pat O’Connor, Jimmy Nolan.
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