*Stephen Kelly celebrates scoring the winner. Photograph: Joe Buckley
Newmarket Celtic’s dream of a tenth successive Clare Cup title is still alive but they had to survive some anxious moments before overcoming a strong Lifford challenge in this Sunday morning’s semi-final.
Newmarket Celtic A 2
Lifford FC 1
(after extra time)
Venue: Frank Healy Park, Doora
Extra time was required in this one and it was experienced team captain Stephen Kelly who stepped up to score the winner, two minutes into the second period.
Centre half Kelly rose highest to flick on a free from inside his own half by goalkeeper Shane Cusack. The goal finally ended a strong challenge from Lifford who had stunned the favourites as early as the second minute for Paul Martyn to fire home the opening goal.
Their joy lasted less than a minute as straight from the resumption of play, Celtic attacked and Ronan McCormack struck for the leveller. For the remainder of the half neither goalkeeper was called on to make a save.
“All credit to Lifford, they came in with a game plan but our lads dug deep and they didn’t panic. When we talked at half time and again before extra time we said keep doing what we are doing. Our experience told, We were never going to panic. We have been down this road many times. Stephen struck for the match winner and it’s very hard to stop him when the right ball is put in”, Celtic manager Mark O’Malley said after the game.
Looking ahead to the final, the former Newmarket defender said “We are looking forward to playing Avenue. They are a fantastic team and they have had a great year so far. Hopefully we will get things right on the day”.
Lifford manager Adrian Walsh reflected, “We weren’t afraid of the big name. It was a gutsy performance from our lads. We got the goal and then a mistake allowed them in for their goal. Overall the lads showed great heart and determination against a serious Newmarket outfit. They have been on top in Clare for last twelve years. We gave them a good rattle”.
“We took over in mid October. The season had already started and we had a couple of losses. One thing lead to another internally and we just sat down and had a chat. We got a couple of lads on board and the boys have trained hard, they dug in. We have a good squad and for me it’s all about the squad, its not about eleven, it about twenty two or twenty three lads”, Walsh added.
He continued, “We are a proud club, we have a good solid academy we have good lads around us. We have good lads coming through. Unfortunately we had to play Avenue in the league midweek before this game and we finished that game with three 17 year olds”.
Newmarket had more of the play in the second half but they had difficulty in breaking down a strong Lifford defence. David McCarthy and Eoin Kelly came close to breaking the deadlock but Lifford stood form and the sides remained deadlocked at 1-1 at the end of normal time.
This pattern continued in the first period of extra time and many were predicting a penalty shoot out but Newmarket captain Stephen Kelly had other ideas.
Two minutes into the second period, Newmarket substitute Alan Kelly won a free just inside his own half. Goalkeeper Shane Cusack floated the kick into the Lifford goal area where Steven Kelly rose highest to get the all important touch which proved decisive.
The absence of Lifford centre half Darragh Kerins who had hobbled off the field before the end of normal time with a leg injury, roved a big blow to the Lifford side. To their credit Lifford tried hard to get back on terms but the experience of Newmarket ensured that they held firm and booked their place in the final which is scheduled for May 28
Newmarket Celtic A; Shane Cusack; David O’Grady Darren Cullinan, Stephen Kelly, Eoin Kelly; Conor McDaid, Gearoid O’Brien, David McCarthy, Daithi O’Connell, Eoin Hayes, Ronan McCormack.
Subs; Alan Kelly, for O’Connell, Ciaran McCoy for Ryan; Davy Lennon for McCormack
Lifford; Rhys Phillips; Eddie Killeen, John Maher (captain), Darragh Kerins, Hamad Kuku; Michael Junaid, Paul Martyn, Jean Ganda, Matthew Davenport, Guillermo Lopez, Eoin Walsh;
Subs; Niall Guinnane for Ganda; Nathan Rezenda for Davenport; Dylan Ryan for Killeen; Ethan Cronin for Guillermo; Eric Monahan for Kerins (inj), Zac Guilfoyle for Martyn
Referee: Mark Rellis