SLIDESHOW: Abbeyfeale's press seals Cup win over Rathkeale

Munster Junior Cup 2nd Round

Rathkeale 0 - Abbeyfeale United 2 (R. Lynch 17, C. Horan 85)

The two key moments in Abbeyfeale United’s 2-0 victory away to Rathkeale in the second round of the Munster Junior Cup both came in the opening 30 minutes.

The first key moment was the opening goal in the 17th minute. There had been signs that Rathkeale were finding it difficult to keep possession under the pressure of Abbeyfeale’s high-intensity pressing game. The visitors were winning back the ball in the middle and attacking thirds, just as Rathkeale had done to Avenue in the FAI Junior Cup last week, and this bore fruit when Pakie O’Connor passed diagonally left to Joe Kelliher who centred for Ray Lynch to fire first-time past goalkeeper Brendan Carmody from ten yards.

This wasn’t necessarily a fatal blow for Rathkeale. They had come from behind twice against Abbeyfeale at the end of last season, to earn a 1-1 draw in the league in Riverside Park and to go on to win 2-1 in the Desmond Cup Final.

However, the task of doing it for a third time became immeasurably more difficult when Carmody was sent off in the 28th minute for bringing down Lynch eight yards outside the box. The Rathkeale management team of manager Alan Doyle and assistant Johnny Markham reshuffled by putting centre-half Mikey Hickey into goals, moving Sean O’Shea into the centre of the back three and dropping back Thomas Quilligan as the left-sided defender.

To their credit, Rathkeale reacted manfully to this setback and, to a man, they all tried extra-hard to get back into the game. They were successful to the degree that they gave as good as they got for much of the remainder of the game but unsuccessful in finding the cutting edge required to penetrate Abbeyfeale’s mean defence, superbly marshalled as always by Cormac Roche, who gave a masterclass in positional sense, shielding, jockeying, challenging and tackling.  

With both defences on top, neither Hickey nor Billy Quirke were required to make more than perfunctory saves and so the contest remained on a knife-edge until the 85th minute when Abbeyfeale made sure of booking a third round tie at home to Glin Rovers with the second goal. Again, pressing was the key. Substitute Jamie O’Connor dispossessed Quilligan and then cut in before firing off a well-struck shot that was parried by Hickey. The ball broke to another substitute, Conor Horan, who stroked it into the gaping goal.

Abbeyfeale’s game plan from the start was simple but highly effective. They pressed ferociously all over the pitch, leading to more passing errors than one usually sees from Rathkeale. In attack, they mostly raided along the left and this was due in large part to the frequent forward runs of left-back Gavin Dillon, who combined well with Pakie O’Connor. Sometimes, the ball was passed to Dillon by left-sided centre-half Shane Mulvihill, who is forming a blossoming and trusting partnership with Roche, but just as often it was a pass into space by central midfielders Chris Smith and Fiachra Cotter, who just knew that Dillon would be flying onto it. Spearheading the attack were Joe Kelliher and Ray Lynch, who gave further evidence of why they undoubtedly have to be ranked as two of the greatest players to grace the Limerick Desmond League over the last fifteen years or more.

For Rathkeale, striker Pa Ahern was kept scoreless for the second game in a row but it wasn’t for want of trying. He expended massive energy in creating channels for passing avenues and he was perhaps the hardest Rathkeale player to dispossess. Wide men, Danny Neville and Jack Hennessy, both offered real penetration and had the courage to run at the Abbeyfeale defence in an attempt to prise out openings.

Hennessy’s crosses from the left were a feature of the game, such as in the 35th minute when he found Neville, who headed straight at Quirke. The pair reversed roles in the 53rd minute when Neville crossed to Hennessy who fired over with his shin at the far post. That was Rathkeale’s best chance of the second-half, their only other sniff at goal coming on the hour when Ahern drilled wide of the left-hand post after a good build-up involving Sean O’Shea and Hennessy.

Abbeyfeale had a few chances to get a second goal earlier than when they actually got it. Just before half-time, in yet another example of regained possession, Smith won the ball back and squared to Thomas Sexton, who drilled wide from 20 yards. In the 54th minute, Smith fired too high from a pass by Sexton and, two minutes later, Lynch would have been through on goal from a brilliant penetrating pass by Smith but for a super tackle by Quilligan. There was more great defending from Rathkeale in the 69th minute when pressure by Sean O’Shea resulted in Sexton being off-target from nine yards.

Rathkeale were succeeding in turning the game into a dogged affair, which is all they could do really, being a man down against such quality opposition, but as the game entered the last fifteen minutes, tiring legs and minds against non-stop pressing by Abbeyfeale meant that it was more likely that the visitors would score again than that the home team would equalise. There was an indication of this in the 78th minute when Alan O’Shea passed back to Hickey, who was immediately closed down by Joe Kelliher, who blocked Hickey’s clearance and then hit the side-netting. Abbeyfeale’s pressing game continued and was rewarded for the second time in the game with Horan’s insurance goal in the 85th minute.

We will never know what would have happened if Carmody hadn’t been sent off but Abbeyfeale manager John Kelliher and his assistant Tony Stout can justifiably say that Abbeyfeale were the better team when it was 11 v 11. The management can be proud of the effort put in by their players and will be very pleased to have kept a clean sheet for the first time in four games against local opposition.

The two sides still have to meet twice in the league this season and, given that there is no sign of either side lowering their high standards, it is very likely that they will also meet at some stage in the Cup competitions.

Rathkeale: Brendan Carmody, Alan O’Shea, Mikey Hickey, Sean O’Shea, Danny Neville, Thomas Quilligan, Keith Harnett, Gary Enright, Jack Hennessy, Pa Ahern, Declan Nash. Subs: Shane Doherty for Enright, inj (63 mins), Davy Lyons for Nash (75 mins), Steven Power, Eoin O’Donnell, Patrick Wilmott, David Mooney.

Abbeyfeale United: Billy Quirke, Mike Kelliher, Gavin Dillon, Cormac Roche, Shane Mulvihill, Thomas Sexton, Chris Smith, Fiachra Cotter, Pakie O’Connor, Joe Kelliher, Ray Lynch. Subs: Jamie O’Connor for Sexton (70 mins), Darren Keane for Cotter (80 mins), Conor Horan for P. O’Connor (83 mins), Michael Keane for Lynch (89 mins), Maurice O’Connor, Pa O’Connor.

Referee: Pat O’Connor.

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