Belfast Telegraph

Welders pay penalty as Immaculata progress to Steel & Sons Cup semis

Immaculata 1 Harland & Wolff 1 (Immaculata win 6-5 after penalties)

By Martin Mawhinney

Immaculata manager Kevin Lawlor believes his side’s penalty shootout win over Harland & Wolff Welders in the Steel & Sons Cup quarter-final on Saturday indicates that the sky really is the limit when it comes to how far they can go.

The Division 1A side, who have enjoyed year-on-year promotions up through the ranks since they burst onto the Amateur League scene in 2008, were reduced to 10 men with the dismissal of the influential Colm O’Riordan near the end of normal time, but battled through and earned their victory.

Incredibly for an Amateur League outfit, this is the second successive season the Mac have reached the semi-final stage, and though they will have it all to do against Ballyclare Comrades to book a place in their first ever Steel Cup final, Lawlor knows after this gutsy performance against top class opposition, he and his players have nothing to fear.

He remarked: “The three other teams left (Ballyclare, Dundela and Crumlin Star) are three smashing teams, but we are a great side too. No-one will want to play us.

“That’s twice we’ve played the Welders now, and twice we’ve beaten them. We have beaten Newington three games out of four. What does that say about us?

“This club can go all the way. We have been going as far as we can, then setting the bar a bit higher and doing it all over again... and we’ll keep going. They are fantastic wee lads who keep working for each other, and their attitude is tremendous.

“Going down to ten men could have finished them, but it didn’t. If anything, we could have won that in extra time, with the chances we had. I’m so proud that they were able to do that against a team who are going well in Championship One as well.”

Sometimes in football, there are games that neither team deserves to lose, and this most certainly one of them. It may have been a little slow to get started as a spectacle, but the commitment levels of both teams was never in doubt, and once it got going, it was a tremendous advert for local football, enthralling right to the finish.

Despite the three divisions separating them, it was difficult to tell which side was the higher-ranked as they both put equal pressure on the respective goalmouths.

At one end, Gerard Smith did well to get down to keep out a Matty Burrows volley from a Stephen Cockroft cross, while at the other, Lee Windrum denied O’Riordan despite him having time to pick his spot from an excellent John Boyce ball over the top.

In the 21st minute, Immaculata’s James Haughey looked sure to score from Barry Baggley’s cross but instead hit it straight at the keeper, and within the blink of an eye, the Welders were on the prowl, with Smith quick off his line to cut out a dangerous square pass from Burrows, intended for the lurking Sammy Devine.

It was that sort of evenly-contested game, but Immaculata would doubtless have taken the lead just before the break, had it not been for the quick thinking of Craig Harris, who closed down O’Riordan just as he was about to pull the trigger.

There was no let-up in the intensity in the second half... indeed, it increased noticeably as the game went on. The odds of a red card tumbled dramatically, early in the second half, as referee Peter McGrath dished out a hat-trick of bookings for Immaculata players (Liam Prigent, Tony Heagney and O’Riordan) in three separate incidents over a five minute spell.

The hosts were kicking themselves in the 68th minute, when substitute Ciaran Murray broke the offside trap to latch onto a cutting O’Riordan pass, but took a heavy touch when one-on-one with the keeper, allowing Windrum to get down to it in time.

However, just a minute later, they were celebrating a timely lead; Heagney passing through to Haughey, who steadied himself before poking home.

But little under ten minutes after this, the Welders netted a well-deserved equaliser. In a quick surge up the pitch, Gary Dorrian broke free before crossing in to Philip Simpson, who smashed in from just inside the area.

With the game heading to the inevitability of extra time, Immaculata’s worst fears were realised as arguably their best outfield player, O’Riordan, was shown a second yellow for an off-the-ball nudge on Mark Magennis.

To their credit, however, Immaculata continued to shine in extra time against their determined opponents. Only penalties could decide an epic game like this one,  and it all came down to the first penalties of sudden death; Padraig Adams scoring his, and a heart-broken Stephen Garrett sending his high over the bar.

“I’m totally gutted,” said rain-drenched Welders boss Paul Miskelly afterwards. “You have to take your hat off to Immaculata, but we have Dundela in the league next weekend, and if my boys can’t get up for that game, they won’t get up for anything.”

 

IMMACULATA

Gerard Smith: A near flawless outing. 9

Liam Prigent: Moved the ball out quickly from the back. 7

David Hughes: Withstood spells of Welders pressure. 8

Gary Largey: Didn’t let his teammates down. 7

Sean McGovern: A commanding performance. 8

Colm O’Riordan. Had a brilliant game until his red card. 7

Tony Heagney: Held the ball up well in midfield. 7

James Haughey: Took his goal with aplomb. 8

Kevin McGovern. Weaved his way through the Welders defence. 8

John Boyce: A creative presence going forward. 8

Barry Baggley: Provided decent service from wide. 7

 

Subs

Billy McGovern: Not used

Gary Dorrian: On for Baggley, 64

Padraig Adams: On for Haughey, 110

Jonathan McDonnell: Not used

Ciaran Murray: On for K McGovern, 58

 

HARLAND & WOLFF WELDERS

Lee Windrum: A steady pair of hands. 8

Gareth Beattie. A danger from dead-ball situations. 8

Craig Harris: A strong physical showing. 7

Sammy Devine: Put in a fair shift. 7

Dan McMurray: Formed a great pairing with Philip Simpson. 8

Philip Simpson: Always in the right place at the right time. 8

Stephen Cockroft: His throw-ins were as good as corners. 8

Ryan Deans: Held things together in the midfield. 7

Matty Burrows: Looked alert, though sometimes took a touch too many. 7

Mark Magennis: A disciplined performance. 7

Paul Dickson: An intelligent and thoughtful display. 7

 

Subs

Josh Cahoon: On for Devine, 74

William Armstrong: On for Cockroft, 119

Chris Middleton: Not used

Stephen Garrett: On for Dickson, 62

Tony Miskelly: Not used

 

MAN OF THE MATCH: Gerard Smith (Immaculata). The Mac’s hero pulled off a vital stop in the shootout and also scored a penalty.

MOMENT OF THE MATCH: The penalty shootout – watching both teams battle the elements as well as each other in a relentless downpour, with so much at stake.

SAVE OF THE MATCH: There were so many, but a Philip Simpson clearance off the line from John Boyce in the 85th minute caught the eye.

BLOOPER OF THE MATCH: Colm O’Riordan may never have forgiven himself for his second yellow, but his teammates turned deficit to advantage.

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