Neither St Patrick’s YM nor Killyleagh YC will have set their sights on Toals Steel & Sons Cup glory this season, but this first round encounter offered both an opportunity to set an early marker. In the end, it was the former who grasped it with both hands, with a comfortable victory over their fellow Division 1A opponents.
There is no question that promotion ranks at the top of the priority list for both clubs this season, but a morale-boosting win was still at stake. They both have different reasons for wanting to achieve a top-two finish – St Pat’s, to reach the Premier Division for the first ever time, and Killyleagh, to restore the top flight status they had previously enjoyed for so long – but a win here was a chance to get things on the right track.
Having watched his side crumble inexplicably in a 6-1 away drubbing by Rathfriland Rangers on the opening day last weekend, St Pat’s boss Ciaran Smyth knew that more than most, and for that very reason was delighted with this latest result.
He told The Park: “Without any disrespect to Killyleagh, this game for us was all about getting a winning mentality. Is the Steel & Sons Cup the be-all-and-end all? Not for us, no. To be honest, the Irish Cup and the Steel & Sons are competitions are you put to the back of your mind.
“But winning was important for us today. Losing is important too… what I’ve told the players is it’s about how you lose. Like, after last week’s result, the lads were in the changing room, making up a song about us being bottom of the table. The team spirit is good, and we are starting to get the buzz back.”
That is the challenge facing both clubs in this fixture, arguably even more so for Killyleagh YC, who will never be allowed to forget their record-equalling six successive Premier Division titles, at the turn of the Millennium, as they plot their way back to the top division.
And they began this encounter in encouraging fashion, surging into a fifth minute lead as Gary Murray’s free kick was cleared only as far as Aaron Cheevers, who shot expertly inside the right post, just beyond the reaches of Darren Madden.
Shortly after this, Brannigan launched a shot that was always soaring narrowly over the bar, while Joe Thompson played a ball over the top to Brendan O’Neill, who had time, but instead, rolled a rushed effort well past the far post.
Killyleagh had an ideal opportunity to extend their lead in the 20th minute, as Chris Cochrane’s searching pass picked out Aaron Carberry, who ghosted through the defence on a quick counter-attack, but was left with his head in his hands after dragging it just wide of the mark.
It was ultimately a moment to be rued by the visitors, as soon after this, Jamie Jacobsen guided a sublime free kick into the top left hand corner of the Killyleagh net.
St Pat’s now had their tails up, and Jacobsen was unfortunate not to add to his tally when he sent a clean strike goalwards, but Alistair Coburn stayed rooted to his goal-line to claim the ball with confidence.
The home pressure continued, and it wasn’t long before the Killyleagh YC defence cracked again, with the ball falling to Thompson, who fired home a sweet volley from just inside the box.
While St Pat’s were dominating the attacking possession, Killyleagh were by no means out of the contest, and it took a good Coburn save to deny John Murray from a 25-yard free kick. The hosts were also relieved to see John Jo Sharvin’s header from a Cochrane corner whizz over the target.
Having survived those near misses, Smyth’s men continued into the second half in positive form, and the away side had Coburn to thank once again as he reached up to save a goal-bound effort from Raymond Spotswood.
There were few protestations from Sean Paul Johnston after he had a goal ruled out having collided with Coburn in an attempt to capitalise on his fumbling of an earlier free kick, but more so from Killyleagh when Nicky Hagan had appeared to put Jamie O’Connor clean through for a one-on-one with Madden, but referee Chris Morrison ruled it offside.
Not for the first time, Killyleagh were no doubt left feeling a great deal of regret, as St Pat’s went straight up the other end, and Johnston netted the goal his performance deserved with 20 minutes to go.
Nevertheless, the score-line was a fair reflection of the performances of both sides, in the end.
“They took their chances and we didn’t,” admitted new Killyleagh manager Colin Murray afterwards.
“I played for this club during a period when we won a lot of trophies, but the expectations now are going to have to drop, as we are in a rebuilding process, and that takes time.
“It is going to be a struggle at times, and we will find out who the characters are, and who is prepared to dig in and roll up their sleeves. I know that’s what I’ll be doing, so let’s see who else does.”
MAN OF THE MATCH: Brendan O’Neill (St Patrick’s YM). Worked hard and didn’t let his head drop when his team went behind.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH: Jamie Jacobsen’s equalising free kick for St Pat’s was as fine a set-piece strike as you’ll see.
SAVE OF THE MATCH: Alistair Coburn’s save from Jacobsen, just moments after he’d scored, was the stuff of an accomplished keeper.
BLOOPER OF THE MATCH: There were few glaring errors, though Aaron Carberry will have been kicking himself for missing the chance to give Killyleagh a 2-0 lead.
St Patrick’s YM
Darren Madden: A decent showing between the sticks. 7
Jamie Jacobsen: Great in defence, and also at set-pieces. 8
Barry Darragh: Kept Killyleagh attack at bay. 7
Aiden Mulvenna: A tidy display. 8
Sean Begley: Didn’t let his team-mates down. 7
Brendan O’Neill: Inventive and industrious. 8
Raymond Spotswood: Not one to give up the ball easily. 7
Ciaran McManus: A midfield workhorse. 7
Joe Thompson: Fantastic turn of pace. 8
Sean Paul Johnston: Positive, always looking for a way through. 7
Cormac Brannigan: Showed diversity in a number of roles. 8
Keith Mulvenna: On for Brannigan, 76
Tony McNally: On for Jacobsen, 65
Michael Murray: On for Darragh, 65
Alistair Coburn: Pulled off some great stops, but could do little about those he let in. 6
Michael McGreevy: Passing could have been better. 5
Peter Strain: A competent display. 6
Gary Murray: Timed his challenges well. 8
John Jo Sharvin: Did the simple things well. 7
Nicky Hagan: Decent range with his passing. 7
Aaron Cheevers: No shortage of effort. 7
John Murray: A tough-tackling contribution. 7
Aaron Carberry: Not a stand-out performance. 6
Jamie O’Connor: Had a quiet afternoon. 5
Chris Cochrane: Passing was spot on. 7
Andrew Cochrane: On for Cochrane, 85
Dylan Carberry: On for Sharvin, 74
Robert Kordos: On for O’Connor, 80