Crumlin Star victory signals end of an era for Killyleagh
Killyleagh YC 1 Crumlin Star 3
On a day when the curtain was brought down on a glorious era of one the Amateur League Premier Division’s most renowned clubs, Killyleagh YC manager Ricky Graham vowed: “We’ll be back.”
Crumlin Star’s 3-1 victory at the Showgrounds on Saturday not only kept their flickering title hopes alive, but also killed off any chance of their Co Down opponents remaining in the top flight – a position they have proudly held since their promotion from the then Division 1B in 1980.
The Division 1A title was captured in 1985, with runners-up spots in 1986, ‘87 and ‘91. But it was in the league’s modern guise, as the Premier Division, that Killyleagh really made their mark.
First getting their hands on the trophy in 1993, they then went on an unsurpassed run of six successive title victories from the turn of the millennium, in a golden period that also saw them lift the Steel & Sons Cup and face Linfield in an Irish Cup semi-final, among their many cup successes.
Those cherished memories seemed a long way away as the club’s former long-serving manager and current chairman Dee Heron, along with dedicated wife Valerie, watched unfolding the inevitability that they, and various managers, have been working and striving so hard to avoid in recent seasons.
With the news trickling through that Comber Rec’s draw with Immaculata had put survival beyond the realms of realistic reach, current boss Graham reflected: “It is sad to see a club of this stature go down, but we will be back. We will go down as a group, we will rebuild, and we will come back up as a group.
“When I took the job in January, I was hopeful we had enough to stay up, but unfortunately we haven’t. This is a very young squad, though, and there is a lot of room for improvement.”
The current crop of players didn’t let the club down at the weekend – indeed, they fought to the finish. The only problem was that, rather like the league campaign itself, they left themselves with too much to do in the latter stages.
They were already a goal down by the 11th minute; Barry McKervey delivering the cross for James Doyle to head in off the post with precision.
Less clinical was Ciaran Murphy when he missed the opportunity to double the lead three minutes later, as he collected from Steven Brown, only to somehow scoop the ball over the bar from all of three yards.
Perhaps the home side saw this as an encouraging sign, as they went in search of an equaliser. Stevie Kennedy played a dangerous pass ahead of Andy Carberry, but Ciaran McNeill darted off his line to ensure he was first to the ball.
Soon after this, Kennedy was instrumental once more, as his corner fell to John Murray, whose sweeping effort from outside the box had the Crumlin goalkeeper beaten, but not Barry McKervey, who was on the line to head clear.
But Brown, possibly still mindful of his earlier squandered attempt, set about making amends in style, with two goals the space of three minutes. The first arrived in the 25th minute, as he shot in on the rebound from Aidan O’Kane’s saved effort, then followed that with another instinctive finish, from McKervey’s defence-splitting ball.
After this, Killyleagh’s John Murray struck a low drive just wide, while later, a swerving McKervey free kick was just inches off the mark.
However neither keeper was tested again, until approaching half time, when a clean-struck half-volley from Francis Murphy had Andrew Wallace at full stretch to parry away what could easily have otherwise been a fourth Crumlin goal.
Instead, it was Killyleagh who struck the net next, and they had warned it was coming, with McNeill pulling off a good save to keep out a John Murray free kick that had been heading for the top left hand corner.
However, the Crumlin keeper could do nothing about Stevie Kennedy’s clinical strike into the bottom right hand corner on 64 minutes.
This could well have been the catalyst for a fight-back, but while Killyleagh had much more control of the ball in the second half, the visitors continued to have the better of the chances, with Wallace getting down to a driven effort from Doyle, and a McKervey shot deflected narrowly over.
In the end, Killyleagh’s fate was sealed, and Crumlin assistant manager Joe McAlea admitted he was stunned by his opponents’ predicament.
“I can’t believe it,” he said. “It’s terrible news, a big club like that, after everything they’ve done… I didn’t actually know about it until today, but I am sure they won’t be long in coming back up.
“From our point of view, Ards Rangers are going to be tough to catch at the top. But we can’t worry about them, we’ll just worry about we do and make sure we don’t give up.”
Andrew Wallace: Improved second half over first. 6
Jordan Kennedy: Put in a shift in a tough game. 6
Jonny Murray: Struggled to contain Brown. 5
Gary Murray: Found opposition a handful. 5
John Joe Sharvin: Solid and dependable. 8
Kieran Sullivan: Looked assured in possession. 6
John Murray: Did his best to carve out chances. 6
Jamie Morrow: A quiet enough game. 5
Andy Carberry: Kept plugging away. 7
Aaron Carberry: Tried to do too much at times. 5
Stevie Kennedy: A standout force in attack. 8
Aaron Gilmartin: On for Morrow, 51
Peter Russell: On for Aaron Carberry, 67
Jonny Heaney: On for Sullivan, 82
Ciaran McNeill: Did what he had to well. 7
Gary McKernan: A disciplined display. 7
Aidan McNeill: Did a decent job at the back. 7
Ciaran Burns: Almost error-free. 7
Paul Berne: Left nothing to chance. 7
Aidan O’Kane: Passing was a key strength. 8
Steven Brown: Fleet-footed and skilful. 9
Francis Murphy: Persistent and determined. 8
James Doyle: In right place at right time. 8
Ciaran Murphy: Took (most) chances well. 8
Barry McKervey: Commanding and intelligent display. 8
Jim Campbell: On for McKernan, 45
Brendan Hamill: On for McKervey, 87
Conor Quigley: On for C Murphy, 90
MAN OF THE MATCH: Steven Brown (Crumlin Star). Looked capable of making something happen each time he got the ball.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH: Stevie Kennedy’s 64th minute goal showed Killyleagh hadn’t given up the fight.
SAVE OF THE MATCH: Andrew Wallace’s parry from Francis Murphy’s half-volley, with half time approaching.
BLOOPER OF THE MATCH: Ciaran Murphy’s three-yard shot over the bar, but made up for it with a brace soon after.