Belfast Telegraph

Drinks on Mac as he toasts Comber's treble hero Darren

Comber Rec 7 - Shamrock 1

By Martin Mawhinney

Comber Rec manager Phil McDonagh toasted his hat-trick hero Darren McNamee, whose goals helped the team to a 7-1 Clarence Cup third round win over Shamrock and earned him a customary bottle of vodka.

It's a time-honoured tradition down Park Way that any home player who bags three goals in a game is presented with the popular spirit by the club, but he can't have been the only player in the home side celebrating come Saturday evening.

This was a comprehensive and thoroughly impressive team performance which continued a promising run of form for the Premier Division men.

And while a title tilt may be just beyond them following a stuttering start to their season, there is every sign that they are now moving towards some tangible success, and McDonagh admits that for the first time in a long time, he is able to look forward to Saturdays.

He revealed: "When I first arrived here last year, I didn't even like watching us! But we had a clear-out and there has been a massive improvement. They are now playing the sort of football I like, and have scored 15 and conceded only one in the last three games.

"I was delighted to see Darren getting that hat-trick. He has always been a goal-scorer, though he was a centre half at Larne, and a centre midfielder at Dungannon and Donegal Celtic.

"He is versatile and has a good attitude - in fact, he was unlucky not to score more."

The same could be said for Comber Rec as a whole on Saturday, and although they were playing a Shamrock team six divisions below them, the north Belfast men are currently second in Division 2C in their debut campaign in the Amateur League.

Shamrock showed their intentions to make a game of this early on. Within the first five minutes, Stephen Tourley was unfortunate to strike his free-kick into the Comber wall, while Gary Gilmore was equally frustrated to flash an effort across the face of goal.

If that missed opportunity was wasteful on Shamrock's behalf, it was nothing in comparison to what followed from their hosts. Connor Glenholmes pressed goalkeeper John Murphy into a rushed clearance as far out as the touchline, and he inadvertently passed it straight to Mark Shannon.

However, Shannon was only able to muster a half-hearted shot well short of the un-manned target.

A minute later, Comber really should have taken the lead, but McNamee's connecting shot from a Jason Walls long-ball struck the inside of the post and somehow bounced straight back out.

Not to be shaken, Shamrock's defenders showed they wanted to be as positive as their attacking team-mates, with Declan Carson and Paul Trainor combining in the final third - the former crossing to the latter, who sent a header well over.

Comber, however, ensured it would be they who took the initiative in the 14th minute, as Jonathan Jess got onto the end of a searching ball forward from Andrew Scott, before dispatching it into the bottom right.

Two minutes later, the home side attempted to repeat the trick, this time Eamon Connor playing forward to Liam Judge, but Murphy was quick off his line to intercept.

In the 23rd minute, Glenholmes deserved to double his team's lead, but his fine curling shot struck the bar, which was still rattling when, at the other end, Gerard McConnell rolled a shot wide and Turley drove low into Gerard McVeigh's arms.

Comber gave a great demonstration of a well-executed set-piece on the half-hour, with Neil Moore rising well to nod in from a brilliant Judge corner.

And even though Shamrock's Brendan O'Neill came close to returning the deficit to one again, but for a great McVeigh stop from his dipping free kick, Comber were in no mood for relinquishing and went into the break four goals to the good, thanks to tap-ins from McNamee and Jess in the concluding five minutes of the half.

McDonagh's side maintained their goal hunger after the interval, and within 25 seconds of the restart, they had another, this time Glenholmes sliding under the helpless keeper.

Still, Comber continued to press, and they were almost rewarded yet again when, after some superb individual work, substitute Jordan Dougherty picked out Shannon at the back post. It deserved a big finish, but Shannon shot wide.

While their fate had been sealed much earlier in the game, Shamrock, to their credit, did their best to battle on, and soon after McNamee rounded off a slick passing move with a neat finish, Shamrock got their consolation.

It was a clinical strike, too, with Niall Lynch finding the bottom right hand corner from just inside the box.

But the day belonged to Comber, and in particular, to McNamee, who sealed his hat-trick by calmly slotting past Murphy in the 87th minute.

Shamrock boss Conor Stiobhard later remarked: "This was a learning curve for us. Coming here to a club at this level gives us a taste of where we want to be and an incentive for the future.

"We will be looking to use this to help push us on for the remainder of the season."

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