Downpatrick and Castlewellan went to the wire on penalties in Bobby Dalzell semi
The Newcastle and District Amateur Football League,
Venue: Ballyhornan, Friday 1st December 2023,
Final Score: Castlewellan 3 3 Downpatrick (Downpatrick win on penalties 4-5 AET),
This always looked like a fairly evenly balanced semi-final and it took the tenth penalty kick in extra-time to find a winner in the NFU Bobby Dalzell semi-final played on a perishingly cold night writes Jim Masson.
Downpatrick triumphed in the end after a long, hard slog against tough adversaries Castlewellan chasing a spot in the NFU Bobby Dalzell Cup Final.
The match kicked off with both sides trying to press forward. On 6 minutes Adrian McCoubrey almost headed in from a corner after a sound attack by Downpatrick.
Then Castlewellan’s Thomas Rice found space and moved towards the Downpatrick goal but keeper Ruairi Murphy was out like a rocket closing him off.
Castlewellan won a corner and after three different heading efforts, Downpatrick keeper Murphy managed to get possession of the ball.
Gradually Castlewellan started to up their game and pushed into the Downpatrick half and had a chance when Scott Kinley passed to Declan Gregory and back to Sean Fitzsimmons but his shot was just wide of the Downpatrick post.
In this see-saw game Downpatrick broke and Anthony Carson on the left wing crossed to Andrew McCoubrey and Seanny Duggan panting for the ball at the goal mouth, but it was too strong.
Then Downpatrick’s best opportunity so far came when Duggan sailed through a line of defenders and hit a solid volley but it rose a fraction over the top bar.
On 26 minutes, a ball crossed through the box and met the head of Seanny Duggan who sent it straight into the Castlewellan net past keeper McVeigh.
Castlewellan bounced back with increased vigour but Castlewellan did well to contain their opponents just outside their box. And then Duggan got possession and made a charge at the Castlewellan goal but McVeigh did enough to narrow his angle and deny him the goal.
Gradually Castlewellan squeezed Downpatrick looking for an equaliser, but in one strong challenge, Downpatrick were denied by the excellent clearance of defender Ryan Morgan who sailed into the air and broke up a solid attack.
Just when the sides were looking as they were cancelling each other out, Castlewellan’s Thomas Rice managed to nod in a goal at relatively close range giving Murphy no chance at all on 26 minutes. The teams were equal again.
Just as the first half was playing out, Castlewellan made a huge effort to restore their lead but Downpatrick responded and Andrew McCoubrey took a corner and it was a timely header form Castlewellan half-back Caolan Corrigan that kept the ball off his line maintaining the score 1-1 at half time.
There was some good football in the first half but the teams seemed to cancel out each other efforts, and there were too many high balls.
But the second half was much more entertaining.
Within two minutes off the whistle, Downpatrick’s Nathan McAllister scored for Downpatrick with a terrific low volley from the edge of the box, a difficult shot for any keeper to save putting Downpatrick again into the driving seat.
Both teams upped their game and the pace quickened along with the more physical tackles which made the game stop-start.
Castlewellan won a free kick outside the box and Ruairi Croskery hit a fantastic volley on target to the top left corner but keeper Murphy rose to the occasion and made a tremendous save denying him.
Josh Montgomery then after a spell of to and fro soccer put his side two goals a head when he converted a pass from Duggan in a snap attack hitting a low hard volley beyond McVeigh’s reach. Downpatrick may have been in ecstasy at this going being two goals ahead but Castlewellan dug deep.
Chasing that elusive goal to keep them in the game, Castlewellan pressed forward and won a corner, and just then Duggan brought the ball up into the Castlewellan half taking on the defenders in a gutsy, solo run but was almost in striking distance of a goal before he lost possession.
Castlewellan doubled their efforts and it paid off. Ruairi Croskery found the ball within striking distance with ample space to volley low volley whizzing into the corner through a pack of players giving keeper Murphy little chance to react.
Then in a goalmouth challenge in the mouth of the Downpatrick goal, sub Adrian Dornan almost managed to turn 180 degrees and tap the ball in for a goal and rues the day he did not take ballet lessons as a child.
In a reply attack, Downpatrick’s Nathan McAllister almost clawed a goal back when he held the ball well under pressure from defenders but his shot at close quarters was held by McVeigh.
Again the persistence of Castlewellan paid dividends when they won a free outside the box taken by Ruairi Croskery who hit it low on target. The ball bounced off keeper Murphy into the back of the net in the 78th minute. Castlewellan were now drawing 3-3 with Downpatrick, a comeback.
The match rattled on at a fast pace with intermittent breaks for players injured.
Duggan made an assault on the Castlewellan goal and Adrian McCoubrey took the shot but fired just wide. Downpatrick followed through with a few determined attacks. Sub Barry Treacy hit a lovely dipping volley but it went just wide of the back post.
Thje whistle for extra time signalled that the players would have to dig deeper for 10 minutes each half and score or face the dreaded penalty shoot out.
In the first period of extra time, Croskery almost scored again shooting under pressure from defender McShane.
Both sides were cautious of giving away an easy goal. Players by now were cramping up on both sides.
Downpatrick made a charge and Duggan just missed a shot inside the box then Adrian McCoubrey tried a header down to the floor of the Castlewellan net but keeper McVeigh read it and reacted well.
There was a moment of drama when Castlewellan defender Barry Travers fouled Andrew McCoubrey on the edge of his box but Barry Treacy lined to the shot and the ball dipped but not sufficiently and went over the top bar.
Castlewellan too had their chances such as when Ruairi Croskery broke forward and hit the ball hard which ricochetted off keeper Murphy for a corner. Then Shane McCann tried to head the ball down but it was on the wrong side of the post.
But there was no goal in the extra time and the teams now faced the penalty challenge. They were well exhausted and bruised, but faced the inevitable.
Castlewellan lost on penalties and Downpatrick keeper Ruairi Murphy had a clean sheet, and all hell broke loose among the Downpatrick fans and camp when Andrew McCoubrey nailed the ball to the back of the Castlewellan net for the 10th penalty.
Downpatrick had won a useful two goal advantage but Castlewellan managed to draw 3-3 to force extra time an penalties after Croskery clinching two goals for Castlewellan to keep his side alive in the contest to get into extra time.
Downpatrick now face Ardglass on Boxing Day in the NFU Bobby Dalzell Final and it will be an absolute Bobby Dazzler with both teams playing well at the moment.
Downpatrick FC: 1 Ruairi Murphy 2 Shea Holland 3 Nathan McShane 4 Gary Trueman 5 Con Farrell 6 Adrian McCoubrey (C) 7 Nathan McAllister 8 Josh Montgomery 9 Seany Duggan 10 Andrew McCoubrey 11 Anthony Carson. Subs: 12 Ryan Cassidy 14 Barry Treacy 15 Jake Harding 15 Sean Conway 16 Darragh McKibben.
Castlewellan Forest: 1 Brian McVeigh (C) GK 2 Barry Travers 3 Ryan Morgan 4 Conall Burns 5 Shane McCann 6 Caolan Corrigan 7 Declan Gregory 8 Thomas Rice 9 Scott Kinley 10 Sean Fitzsimmons 11 Ruairi Croskery. Subs: 12 Paul McVeigh 12 Stephen Connolly 14 Jack Murnin 15 Lee Morrrison 16 Aidan Dornan.