If Colm O’Riordan had any lingering regrets about his role in Immaculata narrowly missing out on last year’s Division 1A title, they were briskly brushed aside with a superb man-of-the-match display which inspired his team-mates to an opening day victory over Derriaghy in their first ever Premier Division campaign.
By a quirky stroke of coincidence, it was he who had a penalty saved in the final match of the preceding season against the very Derriaghy CC team who denied them the trophy.
On this occasion, however, it took a change in system from Mac boss Kevin Lawlor, and a change in position for O’Riordan, to bring the West Belfast outfit back after a subdued first half in which they fell a goal behind.
And while his colleagues were only too happy to remind him of last season’s disappointment, O’Riordan dismissed any idea that it had been playing on his mind prior to the game.
He said: “A couple of players wound me up beforehand, telling me not to be taking any penalties, but it wasn’t an issue for me.
“It was a great second half performance by all the boys, not just myself, but it did make a bit of difference when he put me up front. I’ve played about eight different positions, but I’m happy to play wherever Kevin puts me.”
That sentiment will please his manager, who remarked: “He’s outstanding. Honestly, you could put him in nets and he’d do a great job for you. He could have been at an Irish League club a long time ago, but he wants to keep giving his all for us.
“We changed the system today because with John Boyce away at a wedding, I didn’t feel we had the personnel to play our usual 4-4-2, but I had to change it all at half time. I have to praise the boys, I told them what to do, and they did it completely.”
Without question, though, it was 1A champions Derriaghy who looked the only team with any serious hopes of winning this game throughout the entire first half.
Michael Fisher had to head away from a curling David Elliott free kick, and Gerard Smith needed to be quick on the draw to keep out a dipping attempt from Nathan O’Neill, before Derriaghy registered the game’s first goal on 17 minutes.
The lively Niall Burke saw his header parried, but reacted well on the rebound, turning in to give the away side a welcome lead.
Soon after, Immaculata had their first on-target attempt, Kevin McGovern cutting in to blast a powerful effort from just inside the area, but it was well saved by Derriaghy’s goalkeeper and manager Marc Robinson.
Yet it was the Seycon Park men looking the sharper, hungrier and better organised at this stage, and they were unlucky not to score again in the 43 minute, when O’Neiil was sent clean through, only to be upended by Michael Fisher on the edge of the box.
O’Neill took the subsequent free-kick and as his effort deflected out of play, Immaculata keeper Gerard Smith screamed at his team-mates to “show some fight,” as he certainly did, to punch the ball away from a David Elliott corner.
It seemed that the other 10 players had taken heed to, as they returned a different prospect in the second period. Now it was their turn to notch up the chances, with O’Riordan’s header within a minute of the restart saved, before Barry Beggley stuck the ball in the net from a James Haughey cross, only to have it ruled offside.
Immaculata’s equaliser arrived in the 56 minute, the now advanced O’Riordan, who had started the game at left back getting another header, from Tony Heagney’s cross, on target... but this time, beating Robinson too.
Just as Immaculata had offered an attempt at a response to Derriaghy’s opener, the visitors did similarly, with O’Neill flashing a great shot just past the top of right.
From here on in though, it was all Immaculata, as they sought to turn the heat up on their fellow Premier Division new boys.
A low drive from William Elliott was well matched by the sprawling Robinson, before O’Riordan impressed with two marginally wide of the mark – one, after skipping past several players and the other, after spinning round after his back was originally to goal.
But it was substitute Neal Slane who finished the game with a flourish, ending a quick Immaculata counter-attack with a close-range strike from Padraig Adams’ cross in the 73 minute.
He then wrapped up the afternoon with a fantastic finish which found the top left hand corner, leaving Robinson helpless to keep it out.
The Derriaghy manager later admitted: “They were fitter than us, and it told. But it is only the first game of the season, nobody is panicking.”
Gerard Smith: Made several great saves. 7
Michael Fisher: Composed and steady. 7
James Haughey: Positive, but also dependable. 8
Daniel Largey: Strong in the tackle. 8
Sean McGovern: Superb passing range. 8
Colm O’Riordan: Drove the team forward in the second half. 9
Tony Heagney: Good service from the flanks. 7
Barry Baggley: A solid showing. 7
Gary Dorrian: Get better as the game went on. 7
Padraig Adams: Close control was second to none. 8
Kevin McGovern: Looked tired and was brought off early. 5
Gary Largey: On for Dorrian, 83
Neal Slane: On for K McGovern, 42
Jackie Dynes: On for Barry Baggley, 84
Marc Robinson: Commanded his goal, but couldn’t stop Mac onslaught. 6
Ryan McNaul: Didn’t pull out of a challenge. 7
David Saulters: A strong, physical display. 7
David Wilson: Showed good positional sense. 7
Marc Fell: Decent in the air. 6
Nathan Campbell: Played a commanding role. 7
William Elliott: Showed he had plenty in the tank. 7
David Elliott: A key player, industrious. 7
Jordan Baker: Energetic and creative. 8
Nathan O’Neill: Clever touches made him stand out. 8
Niall Burke: Deserved his opening goal of the game. 8
Gavin McAteer: On for W Elliott, 83
Lee Guy: On for J Baker, 75
Ian Metcalf: Not used
MAN OF THE MATCH: Colm O’Riordan (Immaculata) Second half display in advanced role made all the difference.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH: Neal Slane’s second goal at the death was clinical in terms of both the result and finish.
SAVE OF THE MATCH: Marc Robinson’s stop from Kevin McGovern midway through the first half demonstrated great reflexes.
BLOOPER OF THE MATCH: Kevin Lawlor admitted that the system he employed in the first half needed changed.