Cliftonville 5 Islandmagee 0
Islandmagee boss Sammy Smyth revealed he almost had yesterday’s big Irish Cup date with Cliftonville postponed due to a goalkeeping crisis.
A combination of injury and ineligibility meant that, remarkably, the Amateur League Premier Division outfit had come through four qualifying rounds of the competition without the use of a recognised stopper.
Outfield players were forced to don the gloves for victories over Suffolk, Ballynure Old Boys, Drumaness Mills and Kilmore Rec — the last two of which were almost incredibly achieved via penalty shoot-outs — while a positive Covid test in midweek left them minus a keeper for the trip to Solitude.
Enter Andrew Benson. A midfielder by trade, he has been turning out between the sticks for Islandmagee’s reserves this term and shone yesterday after Smyth made a last-minute call to play on.
“I’d never seen him do nets before,” admitted the Island chief.
“One of our keepers is injured and the other is cup-tied. We signed a new keeper on Tuesday and he caught Covid on Wednesday.
“I was for calling the game off. I contacted the IFA about it and they said we could start the process of getting it postponed.
“But we trained on Thursday night and I saw how much the boys were up for it. Everything was set, the buses were booked and everyone was organised for the big day out, so I just decided we should go for it and try to do the best we could.”
Joe Gormley may have netted a first-half hat-trick — with Luke Turner and Aaron Donnelly adding to the Reds’ tally thereafter — but it was Benson’s display that was the subject of all post-match discussion.
It wasn’t just the number of saves he made, the quality of some of them earned applause from both sets of fans — although Daniel Kearns and Michael Morgan in particular weren’t best pleased to see what looked like certain goals denied.
With Paul O’Neill also thwarted from point-blank range, it was always likely to take something special to finally beat Benson and that’s what Gormley produced with a rocket to begin the scoring.
Even Reds boss Paddy McLaughlin hailed the stand-in keeper’s display.
“He was fantastic and made some unbelievable saves,” he said. “Any keeper would be proud of that performance, never mind an outfield player.”
CLIFTONVILLE: McNicholas 7, McDermott 6 (Foster, 60 mins, 6), Harney 7, O’Neill 6, McDonagh 6 (Gallagher, 70 mins, 6), Donnelly 7, Doherty 6 (Moore, 56 mins, 6), Gormley 9 (Morgan, 56 mins, 6), Turner 8 (Casey, 56 mins, 6), Coates 7, Kearns 6. Unused subs: Ives, R Curran.
ISLANDMAGEE: Benson 8, Monteith 6, Hunter 6 (Williams, 79 mins, 5), Anderson 6, McCreery 6, Baird 6, Workman 6, Monaghan 6 (Knox, 79 mins, 5), Hill 6 (McMurtry, 62 mins, 5), Thompson 6 (Hawthorne, 61 mins, 5), Thomas 6 (Paisley, 46 mins, 6). Unused subs: English, Hastings.
REFEREE: Shane McGonigle 6