Future bright for Armagh City after festive Cup win over Dollingstown
ARMAGH City lifted the Bob Radcliffe Cup for the first time in eight years, snatching the trophy from a distraught Dollingstown side who thought they had done enough to clinch it at Lakeview Park, Loughgall.
Two rare moments of brilliance at either end of a scrappy 90 minutes – Dale Malone's outstanding early long-range strike and Dara Noonan's last-gasp towering header – took the game to extra time and then to penalties.
And it was City's young side who kept their cool to slot home all five of their spot-kicks after Dollingstown sub Duncan Stoddard had his effort saved by Sean Morgan.
The win completed a remarkable turnaround for a club which had been on its knees just three years ago.
In July 2010, Marty Rice took over at Armagh – then about to begin life in the third tier of local football after two successive relegations – with just four players on the books.
So yesterday's cup win was a just reward for both Rice and his squad of talented local youngsters – proving you can win things with kids.
The frost-topped Lakeview Park surface looked like it would cause problems for the players, and when City full-back Ryan McGerrigan slid on it in the fifth minute, Malone capitalised, drilling a 20-yard effort into the top corner to give the Mid-Ulster Intermediate A side the lead.
Armagh captain Liam Cullen rattled the crossbar with a rasping shot after the break.
As the clock ticked down, City blew a golden opportunity when Gareth Grimley's strike bounced off the bar to leave Stephen Murray a simple header but Dollingstown skipper Aaron Moffett cleared it off the line.
But just two minutes before the end, Armagh's pressure paid off when teenage centre-half Noonan powered in a header from a corner.
City dominated extra-time but couldn't force a winner and after Stoddard's penalty was saved, Ultan Lennon scored the winning kick.
Rice was glowing with pride after the shootout.
"The game won't go down in the record books as being the classic we wanted but we're going home with the trophy," he beamed.
"The players put in performances in previous rounds and the champagne football flowed then," he said.
"The conditions were difficult and it was always going to come down to whoever made the least mistakes.
"To be a good side, you have to be able to win ugly and that's what we did."
Dollingstown boss Gary Duke said: "We just switched off for a minute near the end which is hard to take when we were close.
"But the boys were superb and we know we can compete at that level."
Dollingstown: Wilton, Walker, Mackle, Savage, N King, Moffett (captain), Malone, Hamilton, Gibson, Clydesdale, Thompson. Subs: Stoddard, McAdam, A King, Cunningham, Fletcher.
Armagh City: Morgan, Montgomery, McGerrigan, Lennon, Noonan, Kelly, G Grimley, Cullen (captain), Murray, Hynds. Subs: L Grimley, Daly, Donnelly, McBirney, Toland.
Referee: Paul Burns (Banbridge).