McGuigan strikes it hot for La Salle
Two clinical strikes from Glentoran starlet John McGuigan made it a St Patrick’s Day to cherish for De La Salle.
McGuigan’s display of ruthless finishing fired the west Belfast side to a seventh Maxol Direct Senior Cup victory while beaten finalists St Malachy’s reflected on another heartbreaking defeat at the final hurdle.
The Antrim Road side enjoyed the perfect start at Ballyskeagh when Ciaran Vernon blasted home from the penalty spot in the first minute but their resilient backline was twice overpowered by the impressive McGuigan in the final 10 minutes.
De La Salle have now equalled the seven cup wins Boys’ Model have clocked up, underlining the fierce competition among Belfast’s finest.
While St Malachy’s deserve credit for defending with heart, commitment and resolve, McGuigan snatched the man of the match award and ultimately the trophy with devastating finishing worthy of the occasion.
De La Salle’s cross-city rivals have another tale of final heartbreak to spark fresh nightmares but with a little more punch in attack they could have celebrated their first Senior Cup success since 1994.
Another painful ending will strengthen their resolve to come back even stronger but not even their green coloured jerseys could bring them luck on St Patrick’s Day.
It’s De La Salle who departed to paint the town red, leaving their manager Joe McPartland with the look of a proud winner.
“I thought the penalty given against us in the opening minute was harsh but I was delighted with the way the boys responded to that setback,” he said.
“The boys didn’t drop their heads, they battled on. We felt the goal would come and when it did we would win the game. That is how it panned out.
“They are a good team, well organised in defence and it took two great strikes from John to win it.
“Instead of rushing the chances, he took them really well. The first one was the most important one but he showed tremendous composure.
“Matthew Deighan at the back was outstanding for St Malachy’s but we were delighted to get the breakthrough.”
A De La Salle success story looked a little less likely in the opening minute when they fell behind.
Tiarnan McNicholl’s drive struck the hand of Thomas Mulholland and referee Alan Hayes immediately pointed to the spot.
Ciaran Vernon blasted home the penalty to get the boys in green off a flyer.
De La Salle, stung by that early setback, responded with character and goalkeeper Colm Heaney had to be alert to dive at the feet of McGuigan to foil the striker.
In the 15th minute McNicholl’s shot failed to hit the target while at the other end Daniel Carlin’s 25-yard free-kick dropped into the arms of Heaney.
Both teams struggled to play a passing game on a lively, bumpy surface but after the break McGuigan’s dangerous run had St Malachy’s defenders scrambling back to cover.
After a neat lay-off from Daniel Carlin, Thomas Mulholland directed a shot wide of the target but McGuigan was a constant threat and his long range dipping volley on 56 minutes forced Heaney into another save.
On 70 minutes the equaliser finally arrived. Martin McKenna’s long clearance caught out the St Malachy’s defence and McGuigan lobbed the ball over Heaney from just outside the box.
Four minutes later the star man struck again, pouncing on a Mulholland pass and finding the bottom corner of the net with a stunning strike.
St Malachy’s pushed for a later leveller but keeper Brian McGurk turned Ciaran Vernon’s close range header around the post.
Defeated boss Keith McKenna couldn’t hide his disappointment at the finish but he hailed his troops for producing a brave fight.
“We were positive right from the outset and got off to a fantastic start,” he said.
“But after that bright opening we were on the back foot and I felt we should have imposed ourselves on them more.
“De La Salle played very well and were very dangerous up front but I am disappointed we did not create more chances in the second half.
“I knew one goal would not be enough but we couldn’t find another goal. We will just keep on rebuilding and two of the boys in this team will feature again next year.
“The school is renowned for its basketball and athletics, but football is getting stronger now as well and we’ll hope to get back here again soon.”
How the players rated
DE LA SALLE
Mark McKenna: Pulled off a great late save to foil a Vernon header and help side side survive a late
Aidan Davidson: Right-back was as solid and dependable as expected. 7
Fra Harbinson: The defender wasn’t afraid to bomb forward and try his luck from distance. 7
Justin O’Connell: Sweeper was quietly effective but produced a vital tackle when it was needed. 7
Darren Bellew: Strong in the air and on the ground, made several vital challenges. 8
Thomas Mulholland: Was unfortunate to handle the ball for the early penalty but helped set up the second goal. 7
Michael McPartland: Was substituted in the second half after earning a booking in the first but showed his battling qualities. 7
James Haughey: Captain (below) led by example and produced good delivery from set pieces. 8
John McGuigan: Netted both goals and man of the match award. His top class finishing won the Cup. 10
Daniel Carlin: His dangerous corners caused havoc in the St Malachy’s box. 8
Martin McKenna: Couldn’t find the target but was a constant threat. 7
Shane Scullion (for Michael McPartland 58). 7
Colm Heaney: Did well to dive at the feet of McGuigan and frustrated the striker again after the break. 8
Thomas Plant: Played his part in a green wall which De La Salle struggled to break through. Dominant in the
Darragh Loughlin: Solid performance in a very strong backline. 7
Ben Gibson: Small in stature but proved time and again that he is a tenacious tackler. 7
Matthew Deighan: The Under-16 international (above) was a classy performer, immense at the back. 8
Ciaran Vernon: Slotted home the early penalty and was unlucky with a late header that would have forced extra time. 8
Conal Campbell: Was replaced in the 64th minute but worked tirelessly for the cause. 7
Neil Cummings: The holding midfielder reads the game very well. 7
Chris McSteen: Showed good pace and produced good delivery. 7
Tiarnan McNicholl: His 16th minute shot drifted wide of the target but it was his drive that led to the handball incident in the opening minute. 8
Peter Kelly: Tough tackler and a tireless worker who helped contribute to a magnificent defensive
Gerard Campbell (for Campbell 64) 7
Nathan Torbitt (for Gibson 80) 7