Goal-hungry Costello and Wilson hit six to land Rathfriland the 1A title
As Rathfriland Rangers clinched the Division 1A title in style on Saturday with a comprehensive 6-0 victory at Larne Tech OB, delighted manager Clifford Sterritt was full of praise for the team spirit that got them there.
On paper, this may have appeared a continuation of the special rivalry shared between the prolific Rangers front-pairing of James Costello and Ally Wilson who scored four and two goals respectively, to bring their season totals to 34 and 31.
However, seeing this team in action really brings home just what an effective unit they are as a collective – and this was what pleased their manager most.
Sterritt stated: “A lot of people have said things about the brilliant players we have assembled together, but the real achievement is getting them to gel. These boys played their hearts out today, just as they from the start of the season, and they deserve a lot of credit.
“We came here last year needing a point with a few games left, just to stay up, and a year later, we have won the title. It’s absolutely fantastic.
“Our supporters have been incredible too, and have followed us everywhere, from Millisle to Larne, and in all sorts of weather. This is for them.
“We are looking forward to going up to the Premier Division next season now, and while we know it won’t be easy, Downpatrick have shown that a team can win this league and contend for the Premier Division title the next season. We won’t be going up just to make up the numbers.”
Costello, who is now favourite to land Rathfriland’s top goal-scorer honour for the campaign after netting an incredible seven times in their last two games, and stressed personal glory is nothing more than a side issue.
The Rathfriland hot-shot said: “Listen, we are both strikers, and we both want to score as many goals as we can. But people write and talk about this rivalry, and we just laugh about it.
“I know Ally off the pitch, and he’s a fantastic lad as well as being an unselfish player. We both set each other up when we could easily have a go ourselves. I think that’s why we have managed 65 goals between us this year.”
It wasn’t so much that Larne were particularly poor on this occasion, it was just unfortunate for them that they happened to find their visitors in such electric form, as they sought to close the deal on a special piece of history.
In drizzly conditions, Wilson opened the scoring in the 20th minute, with a 20-yard drive under the reaches of Larne goalkeeper Stephen Adair, and the healthy travelling support were quick to remind their forward that in doing so, he had drawn level with his strike partner’s record.
That particular parity only lasted for 18 minutes, however, as the red-hot Costello collected from a long Chris Havern pass, which left him with a simple finish to double the lead.
With half time fast approaching, Costello might have netted again after being put through by Marty Havern, but this time Adair got down well to produce a classy diving save to deny him.
Costello was clearly in the mood for goals, and when he was sent through again from deep in the 57th minute, he broke the offside trap and stayed patient, calmly rounding the keeper who went early, allowing him a comfortable tap-in.
To say the home side’s chances were few and far between would be putting it lightly, but once again, it was not for the lack of trying. In any case, a goal-ward back-pass from Nathan Baird in the 63rd minute - which forced Rathfriland keeper Shane Harrison to punch the ball over the bar - presented Larne with an indirect free kick from a matter of yards out. Yet Reece Moore could only hit the wall after the set-piece was rolled to him by Scott McNally.
Ten minutes later, Rathfriland’s deadly duo were at it again, and with ruthless brilliance. A mis-clearance from the home defence laid the ball in a goal-scoring position for Wilson, but he unselfishly squared to Costello who thumped it home gratefully to complete his hat-trick.
Not content with his treble, Costello added another goal within another minute, this time receiving the ball from Thomas Lockhart’s arched pass over the defence before rippling the net with yet another incisive finish.
Almost as if to provide a reminder that he is still in contention to top the club’s scoring charts for the season, Wilson guided in a follow-up effort in the 86th minute, after Marty Havern’s first attempt had been parried away. With two games left, and with two such prolific strikers, this in-house race could still go down to the wire.
The main thing, for Rathfriland, is that the title is now theirs. And while Larne Tech boss Johnny Hastings was clearly impressed by what his opponents had served up, it undoubtedly left him reeling as he contemplated what lies ahead for his team as they attempt to tackle 1A again next season.
He said: “Congratulations to Rathfriland, they are worthy champions and they showed what a quality side they are today. It is difficult to compete against a team that has the calibre of players of Wilson and Costello.
“I need a complete clear-out of players over the summer. I only want players here that are interested in playing for me.”
For very different reasons, then, it would seem an interesting summer lies in store for both these teams.
MAN OF THE MATCH: James Costello (Rathfriland Rangers). An obvious choice, especially after scoring four of his team’s six goals.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH: The selfless pass from Ally Wilson in the 73rd minute to set Costello up for his hat-trick underlies the special understanding between this deadly duo.
SAVE OF THE MATCH: Stephen Adair’s diving save to keep out Costello’s effort just before the break was one that caught the eye.
BLOOPER OF THE MATCH: Nathan Baird over-hitting his back-pass to Shane Harrison – but thankfully for him, it didn’t prove costly, and in the end, he played his part in his team keeping a clean sheet.
Larne Tech OB
Stephen Adair: Conceded six, yet kept out several other attempts. 6
Matt Hyslop: Put in a shift. 6
Lee Campbell: An energetic effort. 7
Reece Moore: Showed a good turn of pace. 6
Niall McAllister: Will have better afternoons. 6
Gary Montgomery: Not a standout display. 6
Neil Webb: Passing was his best strength. 7
Scott McNally: Showed some promise from crosses. 7
Ciaran Kelly: A strong physical display. 7
Reece McGinley: Displayed a positive work ethic. 7
Chris Agnew: Was unable to create many chances. 6
Niall McConaghy: On for Webb, 51
Lee Thompson: Not used
Johnny Hastings: Not used
Shane Harrison: Rarely troubled. 8
Chris Havern: Superb passing range. 8
Jake Redpath: A mature display. 7
Nathan Baird: Gave a good account of himself. 7
Aaron Black: Looked at ease when challenged. 7
Marty Havern: Fantastic link-up play throughout. 8
John Scannell: Nimble and skilful. 8
Darren McGrath: Never gave up on a loose ball. 8
Thomas Lockhart: Pace took him past the opposition. 8
Ally Wilson: Showed that prolific goal-scoring is only part of his game. 9
James Costello: Always there with a finish when it mattered. 9
Conor Larkin: On for A Black, 60
Jonathan Black: On for McGrath, 79
Lee Feeney: Not used
Belfast Telegraph Digital