The Northern Amateur Football League battled to a 2-1 victory over the Scottish Amateur FA to write themselves into the history books of the annual Britton Rosebowl fixture, and seal a momentous first year in charge for manager Paul Kirk.
And when, in years to come, historians and supporters cast their minds back to Saturday’s game, they will likely recall very little of the 90 minutes that elapsed at the Killyleagh Showgrounds. For, when all is said and done, what this prestigious end-of-season showdown between long-standing rivals comes down to every year is one thing... the result.
Kirk, who will always be best known for a successful 13-year spell in charge of Lisburn Distillery, may still be relatively wet behind the years when it comes to Amateur League management and had admitted to never having watched a Rosebowl fixture before this one, but he still knew the most important thing was for his team to walk off as winners.
“I really didn’t know what to expect out there,” he confessed afterwards. “It wasn’t a game for the purists, but we had worked on our set plays, and ended up scoring from two of them.
“I thought a lot of our boys looked tired – it has been a long season, and it has been a lot to ask of them, playing matches right up to this week.
“A win is a win. We gifted them their goal, perhaps, but I thought once we had conceded, we coped with it admirably.
“I have thoroughly enjoyed this whole experience... as I have said before, it is an honour to manage my country. This is a great day for amateur football in Northern Ireland.”
The Scottish visitors started brightly and could count themselves unlucky not to have opened the scoring in the third minute, as an Alan Inglis overhead kick from a Lance Pearce free kick went wide of the mark.
Yet the local side were just as keen to make an early impact, and they did so within just five minutes, with Shankill United defender Scott McMillan volleying home with a lethal volley inside the box from a fine William McBurney corner.
Two minutes later, the lead was doubled, with Ards Rangers man McBurney turning from provider into scorer, this time latching onto a dangerous Peter McCann free kick to evade a defender, then smash high into the roof of the net from close range.
It was a start beyond the hosts’ dreams, and the SAFA did their best to haul themselves back into the game. Kevin Fotheringham was certainly one of their more lively players, and not long after the NAFL’s early double, he fired over the bar twice, firstly with a 25-yard free kick and later when under pressure from Gareth Ringland.
The Scots almost found themselves another goal behind, when a Colin McLeod back-pass looked to be falling short of Andrew McGilvray, but the goalkeeper made up ground quickly enough to shut out the lurking Ryan Newberry just in time.
There were yet more chances for the NAFL to put the game beyond the SAFA, with McBurney striking the side-netting in the 40th minute, and then a McCann tap-in on the rebound from a saved Ally Wilson drive was ruled offside.
Newberry began the second half as hungry as he finished the first, and he was unfortunate to see a 52nd minute shot take a wicked deflection to carry it out of play.
Three minutes later, and the SAFA were right back in the game, thanks to a goal from Gary Currie, who collected the ball from Ross Fletcher before thumping from 25 yards out, and in the rain-drenched conditions, it almost seemed to slip through the grasp of goalkeeper Allister Coburn.
The Killyleagh YC shot-stopper, however, made amends for the slip-up in the 68th minute when we saved well with his feet in a one-on-one with Inglis, who had been sent clean through by Fletcher.
There was one last scare in nets for the NAFL, but this time, it was for substitute keeper Michael McKenna. Thankfully for the Northern Ireland side, McKenna showed courage to parry the ball away from a Gary Gaitens header, and although he clashed with Inglis in doing so, he recovered with no problem.
In the end, it was a hammer blow for Scottish boss Bruce McNaught, whose first game in charge was in the corresponding fixture last year – a match which they won.
“This is my first defeat, so yes, it is a sore one for me, personally,” he admitted afterwards.
“I think it was the first half performance that won it for the Irish boys. It was a crazy first five minutes or so, but the main thing is it was a good show from two good teams, and it was played in the right spirit.”
MAN OF THE MATCH: William McBurney (NAFL). Played a part in both his team’s goals and kept SAFA chances to a minimum.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH: William McBurney’s goal in the seventh minute gave the NAFL the early two-goal cushion which ultimately won them this game.
SAVE OF THE MATCH: Allister Coburn’s superb 68 minute save with his feet from Alan Inglis, when the Scottish striker looked certain to score.
BLOOPER OF THE MATCH: Allister Coburn may reflect he could have kept out the SAFA goal, but in the end, it didn’t matter.
Allister Coburn: Strong, commanding, confident. 8
Gareth Ringland: A mature display. 8
William McBurney: Defended well, but added attacking threat. 9
Scott McMillan: Early goal got his side off to the perfect start. 8
Barry Moore: A steady effort. 7
Peter McCann: An intelligent display, both on and off the ball. 9
David Graham: Provided good cover ahead of the defence. 8
Aaron Harris: Did the simple things well. 8
Ryan Newberry: Had a few chances but didn’t find the target. 7
Ally Wilson: Gave an added physical presence to the attack. 7
Barry McKervey: Pace was an asset down the left. 7
Michael McKenna: On for Coburn, 83
Jamie Patterson: On for Ringland, 88
Timothy Clarke: On for McKervey, 71
Jordan Baker: On for Newberry, 63
Gary McDermott: On for Wilson, 80
Andrew McGilvray: Undone only by seven minute onslaught. 7
Robbie Peebles: Got forward well when required. 7
Lance Pearce: Put in a decent shift. 6
Colin McLeod: Kept tight to the opposition. 7
Gary Gaitens: Showed good range with his passing. 8
Jamie Bradley: Helped the Scots keep their shape. 7
Niall McClure: Drifted in and out of the game. 6
Steven McDevitt: Passionate and vocal display. 8
Alan Inglis: Made his presence felt. 8
Ross Fletcher: Controlled the ball well when in possession. 8
Kevin Fotheringham: Plenty of pressing but little end product. 7
John Nisbet: On for McGilvray, 82
Gary Currie: On for McClure, 45
Gary Dickson: On for McDevitt, 75
Mark McCormack: On for Fletcher, 79
David Donaldson: Not used.