Belfast Telegraph

McEneff's penalty fires Northern Ireland to triumph

By Keith Bailie

Northern Ireland won the Elite section of the Dale Farm Milk Cup for the fourth time thanks to an Aaron McEneff penalty. Stephen Craigan's boys beat Canada 1-0 to win the prestigious youth tournament with a 100 per cent record, becoming the first team to win the Elite section four times.

The scenes of celebrations will come as a welcome relief to organisers of the Milk Cup, after Wednesday's disgraceful brawl between Northern Ireland and Mexico attracted attention all around the world.

There was no repeat of those disgraceful scenes in Ballymena, but Northern Ireland's Simon Hanna did receive a red card in the second half for a second bookable offence.

Despite that, McEneff's penalty was enough to give Northern Ireland the Elite trophy.

Northern Ireland manager Craigan praised his players, while also taking a final swipe at the punishments meted out to the Mexicans.

"Some of them have played three 90 minutes and it's very, very tough, but they're a great bunch of kids," said Craigan.

"I'm a little bit disappointed with the Milk Cup committee because I don't think they condemned Mexico enough, if it happened in the streets you'd be in prison, but I'm not going to let that take away from what we've done.

"You have to learn how to win games and you have to learn how to see games out, they've done that and winning the Milk Cup is fantastic."

Northern Ireland could have scored as early as the sixth minute when winger Levi Ives flighted in a marvellous cross towards the back post.

Hanna met the ball with a firm header, but his effort was cleared and Mikhail Kennedy was unable to turn the loose ball into the net.

Sean Mullan had two chances in the space of a few seconds in the 37th minute. First he found a little pocket of space before drilling the ball against the post. Ives then collected the ball on the left-hand side before swinging a cross towards Mullan. This time, his header was easily collected by Nolan Wirth in the Canada goal.

Within a minute Canada had their best chance of the first half. Dylan Carreiro found some space on the right-hand side of the box, but his shot was driven into the side netting.

The first chance of the second half fell to Kennedy in the 46th minute but his turn and shot was stopped by Wirth.

Northern Ireland took control of the game in the 53rd minute when Kennedy burst into the box and was brought to ground by Luca Gasparotto. Referee Raymond Hetherington seemed to take an age to point to the spot, but he eventually gave the penalty.

Tottenham Hotspurs man McEneff stepped up and stroked the ball beyond Wirth with a low but powerful penalty, to give Northern Ireland the lead.

Canada thought they'd equalised within 10 seconds of McEneff's goal. While the Northern Ireland team celebrated in front of the home stand, Canada took a quick kick-off and ran towards goal, where Carreiro slotted the ball past Chris Johns.

Carreiro and his team-mates protested furiously when Hetherington disallowed the goal as Northern Ireland weren't ready.

The Northern Ireland boys looked totally baffled by the bizarre incident, as none of them, bar goalkeeper Chris Johns, had noticed the Canadians' cunning move.

Dale Gorman came off the bench in the 68th minute. The youngster made headlines around the world on Wednesday after he was kicked by Mexican player Carlos Arreola. Although the incident looked nasty, Gorman's injuries were minimal and he received a warm round of applause when he entered the pitch.

If the Milk Cup Committee thought this Elite game would pass without incident, they were soon to be disappointed. Hanna received his second yellow card of the game for a rash challenge on Canada's Gasparotto.

Hanna was furious with referee Hetherington, but in truth it was a straight forward decision for the local official.

Northern Ireland hung on to win the game and the Elite trophy, although Canada's Gasparotto clinched the Elite Player of the Tournament award.

Northern Ireland: Johns, Doherty, Harney, Lowe, Ives, Gray (Smart, 62 mins), McCawl, McEneff, Hanna, Kennedy, Mullan (Gorman, 68 mins). Subs: Smart, Mitchell, Glendinning, McDonagh, Fallon

Canada: Wirth, Duncan, Comsia, Gasparotto, Beland-Goyette, Huitema, Carreiro (Jalali, 89 mins), Manuel (Nanco, 68 mins), Haynes (Kennedy, 78 mins), Cabrera (Boakai, 57 mins), Frose. Subs: Saint-Cyr, Farmer, Ferguson, Carducci.

Referee: Raymond Hetherington (Dungannon).

Belfast Telegraph


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