THE Desmond Cup is back in the hands of Rathkeale AFC for the first time since 2010 after they came from behind at half-time to win 2-1 in Clounreask on Sunday afternoon against Abbeyfeale United, seeking their third victory in five seasons.
Rathkeale have now achieved part one of a possible treble, with the two teams still to meet in the Premier Division League Cup Final and level in the League title race going into the final two league games of the season at the weekend.
Rathkeale were worthy winners. A few of their players, such as Keith Harnett, Mikey Lyons and Declan Nash were much better than they had been in the league game between the sides a week earlier and that was a big factor in Rathkeale’s win.
Their best player, though, and the universally-acclaimed winner of the coveted Man of the Match award was Gary Enright, who crowned a typically hard-working performance in the centre of midfield by scoring the winning goal.
The first-half was evenly-contested and it looked like the teams would go in level until Abbeyfeale broke the deadlock in the 41st minute. Jamie O’Connor’s low cross from the right was missed by two defenders and reached the far post where Gavin Dillon met it with a low strike that gave goalkeeper Brendan Carmody no chance.
Now chasing the game, it was up to Rathkeale to increase the tempo in the second-half and they did so, equalising eight minutes after the restart. The move was started by Enright, passing up the line to Pa Ahern, who crossed for his striking partner, Declan Nash, to beat Billy Quirke with a glorious diving header.
The next goal was going to prove crucial in the hot and humid conditions and it went to Rathkeale in the 77th minute. Jack Hennessy’s pass to Enright bounced up to the midfielder and, from the edge of the box, he showed great technique to strike the ball low into the bottom left-hand corner, well beyond the reach of Quirke.
Enright played in a deeper role for the remainder of the game, helping Rathkeale to defend their lead, which they did assuredly and without any moments of anxiety.
Good defending was a feature of the game from the start, from both sides. Pressing was precise and persistent, not easy in the oppressive heat, while some of the biggest cheers of the first-half were reserved for whole-hearted tackles.
The game was also notable for good deliveries from corners and free-kicks, the first of them coming in the third minute when Harnett’s free-kick from the left would have reached Nash at the far post but for a vital intervention by Mike Kelliher.
The first shot on target came in the 11th minute when a cross from Abbeyfeale left-sided midfielder Gavin Dillon was met with a defensive header which broke to Packie O’Connor, whose shot was turned around the post by Brendan Carmody.
In the 25th minute, Cormac Roche’s free-kick from the edge of his defensive third reached Dillon, whose lofted ball across the box was met by Fiachra Cotter, who headed wide of the right-hand post.
Immediately after this, referee Paudie Manning signalled for a water break, as had been agreed with both teams beforehand.
The best way to combat energy-sapping conditions is to let the ball do the work and Rathkeale have an unrivalled player in this regard in Harnett, whose accuracy with long passes forced Abbeyfeale on the back foot on a few occasions.
Another player who showed himself to be adept at the long pass, as well as everything else, was Enright, whose ball over the top put Nash bearing down on Quirke in the 29th minute. Quirke saved at point-blank range, as he has been doing repeatedly for well over a decade now.
Four minutes later, Quirke showed his value to the side again by punching away an inswinging free-kick from Pa Ahern. Rathkeale had another half-chance in the 37th minute when Harnett headed wide from Enright’s corner.
Dillon’s opportunity in the 41st minute was better than a half-chance and he made it count. Abbeyfeale could have doubled their lead two minutes later when Jamie O’Connor released Sexton, who was denied a shooting opportunity by that Prince of Defenders, Sean O’Shea.
The theme in the Rathkeale dressing-room at half-time was that everyone needed to work harder and they carried that onto the pitch. The second-half was only three minutes old when Enright exemplified the will to win that had been sought by manager Alan Doyle when he dribbled through the middle and then unleashed a fierce shot from 27 yards that was destined for the back of the net until Quirke reacted with a tremendous full-length save.
There was nothing Quirke could do about Nash’s diving header five minutes later, setting the game up for a knife-edge battle, where will to win, fitness and composure would all be tested.
Abbeyfeale would have regained their lead two minutes after the equaliser but for Eoin O’Donnell making a crucial block on a shot from TJ Lane. The rebound broke to Lane, whose follow-up was easily caught under the bar by Carmody.
There was also good defending at the other end a few minutes later when Ahern’s diagonal ball over the top would have found Nash in a promising position but for a crucial interception by Mike Keane.
In the 64th minute, Abbeyfeale manager, John Kelliher, was the first to make a change from the bench, bringing on Martin Coughlan for Thomas Sexton. Two minutes later, Alan Doyle also made a change in a wide position, introducing Thomas Quilligan for Eoin O’Donnell.
Four minutes after his introduction, Coughlan had a great chance to put Abbeyfeale ahead. Jamie O’Connor passed to Lane, whose cross from the left was met with a diving header from Coughlan but, from six yards, the former Kerry u-17 player put it over the bar, all this after referee Manning had played a good advantage after a foul by Lyons.
That was Lyons’ second foul after being shown a yellow in the 51st minute and Doyle now had a difficult decision to make. Would he leave on Lyons and risk him getting a second yellow or would he take off the player who was a major driving force in the centre of midfield and was vying with Enright for the Man of the Match award.
Doyle decided on the latter course of action, a decision that was made easier by being able to bring on a player of the quality of Shane Doherty, who justified the manager’s choice by turning in an accomplished performance for the remainder of the game.
The next move by Kelliher was to get number 10 Pakie O’Connor and striker Jamie O’Connor to switch positions. From his new position, Pakie O’Connor returned a pass to Dillon, whose cross was met by the inrunning Coughlan, whose first-time effort flew wide.
There was only one shot on goal left in the match and that proved decisive, Enright’s winner in the 77th minute. The only sniff that Abbeyfeale had of an equaliser came two minutes later when Pakie O’Connor passed to Dillon, who was denied by a great tackle from Jack Hennessy.
Kelliher made two more substitutions, bringing on Joe Kelliher for Cotter and Pa O’Connor for Pakie O’Connor. Kelliher’s first touch of the ball was a penetrating pass, showing what Abbeyfeale have been missing during his lengthy spell on the sideline with a knee injury.
In another attempt to rescue the game, Chris Smith was moved from centre-half to midfield with eight minutes remaining but Rathkeale remained unperturbed by any changes in the opposing ranks.
After Manning’s final Desmond Cup Final final whistle, the trophy was presented to skipper Alan O’Shea by Limerick Desmond League Chairman, Joe Hogan, and Monica Hayes, representing the sponsors, the Weekly Observer. In his speech, O’Shea made special mention of managers Doyle and Seamus Giltenane, the latter keeping track of events from New York, where he was spending a few days on a pre-planned trip.
Giltenane will be back at Doyle’s side for the big games remaining: the last two league games at the weekend and the Premier Division League Cup Final, as well as a potential League play-off.
Kelliher and his assistant manager, Tony Stout, have exactly the same busy and exciting programme to prepare for and they will be using this defeat to spur on the players rather than as a negative. As Kelliher said in his post-match remarks, his players were just average on the day and that was never going to be good enough to win a Desmond Cup Final, especially against a side of the calibre of Rathkeale.
They know they will have to dig deeper if they are not to finish empty-handed from a season that promised so much for so long. Improvement will especially be needed in midfield in further combat with Rathkeale, for whom Enright, Lyons and Harnett clearly won last Sunday’s battle.
Rathkeale: Brendan Carmody, Alan O’Shea, Darren Jones, Sean O’Shea, Eoin O’Donnell, Mikey Lyons, Keith Harnett, Gary Enright, Jack Hennessy, Pa Ahern, Declan Nash. Subs: Thomas Quilligan for O’Donnell (67 mins), Shane Doherty for Lyons (71 mins), Mark O’Sullivan for Harnett (89 mins), Timmy Hogan, Steven Power, Mikey Morrissey.
Abbeyfeale United: Billy Quirke, Mike Kelliher, Mike Keane, Cormac Roche, Chris Smith, TJ Lane, Fiachra Cotter, Thomas Sexton, Pakie O’Connor, Gavin Dillon, Jamie O’Connor. Subs: Martin Coughlan for Sexton (64 mins), Joe Kelliher for Cotter (80 mins), Pa O’Connor for Pakie O’Connor (82 mins), Darren Keane, Maurice O’Connor.
Man of the Match: Gary Enright (Rathkeale).
Referee: Paudie Manning.
Assistant Referees: Pat O’Connor and John Roche.
Fourth Official: Pat King.
WHAT THE MANAGERS SAID:
Alan Doyle, Rathkeale joint manager:
The first-half was even but Abbeyfeale deserved their lead as they were on top for the last ten minutes or so. At half-time the message was not to drop the heads, that we knew that we were a good team and that we needed leaders on the pitch. The game plan was executed perfectly in the second-half, with everybody showing a great will to win. Gary Enright deserved his Man of the Match award and Mikey Lyons wasn’t far behind him.
I was delighted with the entire starting eleven and the three subs who came on. I don’t think this result will have any bearing on the rest of the season and our entire focus now is on Friday’s game against Carrig Celtic. My co-manager, Seamus Giltenane, will be back for that after celebrating this victory in New York.
John Kelliher, Abbeyfeale United manager:
Rathkeale were the better team on the day and they deserved it. Our players were only average and that’s not good enough to win a Desmond Cup Final. They were better than us in the centre of midfield. We were very positive at half-time and players appeared well up for it but we didn’t show up in the second-half.
This was a one-off game and the only way it will affect the rest of the season is that I will be hoping to get a reaction from the players.