Maxol Direct Senior Cup: Boys Model 3 St Mary’s 4
Make no mistake about it — St Mary's dramatic 4-3 triumph over Boys Model will go down in history.
It had everything — passion, intensity, slick passing, crunching tackles, plenty of goals, a sending-off and drama right to the finish.
How sad, then, to see the occasion tainted with trouble in the stands at the final whistle of a game that will hopefully live in the memory long after any thought of the clashes that ensued in the aftermath.
The police will draw their own conclusions after reviewing CCTV of the scenes that followed, but nothing should be allowed to overshadow the fact that this was a top class football match between two teams at the peak of their form.
Prior to kick-off — and indeed during the match — there were no suggestions of what was to follow. In fact, both sets of supporters were in fine voice and there was a jovial, upbeat atmosphere throughout.
The Model supporters had most to cheer early on, as their team were virtually camped in the St Mary’s half for most of the opening 10 minutes.
Several half chances went begging before the Ballysillan Road side put themselves into a ninth minute league with a piece of brilliance from Gareth Hill.
The striker picked up the ball from a clever Kyle Dillon pass, before slotting it confidently below the out-stretched Michael Brady.
St Mary’s were enduring a frustrating start to the game, as Hill was caught offside when in a promising position and shortly after James Farrell surrendered possession under pressure from Scott Nixon.
However, they were soon right back in the game, thanks to a 16th minute strike from Domhnall Quinn.
A sweeping free-kick from Joe McManus was nodded on to Quinn inside the area and he in turn sent a volley into the roof of the net.
The goal seemed to give St Mary’s a new impetus and they pushed forward with all the purpose of a team who believed they could topple the seven-times Senior Cup winners.
At the centre of this renewed determination was centre-back Ryan McLaughlin — the young man whose talents have earned him a place with Liverpool FC.
He so nearly carved an opportunity out of nothing in one such instance in the 21st minute, but was thwarted at the last minute as a Model defender stopped him in his tracks.
Model, however, were the team celebrating a half-time lead, thanks to superb moment of individual skill from Dillon.
The winger slipped past the opposition defence, composing himself momentarily he then slid the ball neatly into the bottom corner of the net.
St Mary’s emerged in the second-half with the spirit of a school determined to emulate their GAA team’s McLarnon Cup success earlier in the day. The impressive McLaughlin got his team back on level terms three minutes after the break. He was brought down after a solo run and got up to put away the resulting penalty kick.
St Mary’s then took the lead just seven minutes later, as Brendan Bennett chested the ball down on the corner of the area and blasted it into the net at the far post with the greatest of accuracy.
It was a goal to savour, but there was better to come.
The Model may have looked to be fighting an uphill battle after the dismissal of Jack Wasson for a second bookable offence, but Hill curled in a fantastic free-kick from the left of the penalty area to bring the scores to 3-3 in the 67th minute. It was, without doubt, the goal of the game.
Such mastery would surely have warranted another 20 minutes of football after the allocated 80 and any neutral in the crowd would have welcomed such an addition.
It looked as if it was going that way, but Danny McBride brought down McLaughlin in the penalty area and it felt like he knew the game was up.
The Liverpool-bound defender buried the last-minute penalty with aplomb to give his school a memorable win.
“Liverpool’s gain is our loss,” said St Mary’s coach Gerry Vernon afterwards. He isn’t wrong.