*The Purcell family with the FAI Junior Cup. Photograph: Joe Buckley

NO CLARE CLUB had won the FAI Junior Cup since the first final was held in 1924 until Saturday in Jackman Park when Newmarket Celtic claimed the spoils against three-time champions St Michael’s AFC.

For Paddy Purcell to have guided Newmarket Celtic in his first season as a manager following his retirement from playing last June is simply remarkable.

Purcell enjoyed a storied career as a player, representing Limerick FC, Waterford Utd and St Pat’s in the League of Ireland before joining Newmarket Celtic in 2014. Almost a decade ago, he had intended on calling quits on his time in the heart of various defences but moved to Newmarket, a club that his children now represent and his wife Claire a respected coach now forms a central role in the management of underage girls teams.

Speaking to The Clare Echo, the forty three year old admitted that winning an FAI Junior Cup was always a target since he joined Newmarket. “I genuinely can’t believe it, I’m so thrilled for so many people right through the squad and the club, there’s a huge amount of hard work going on here. When I signed with Newmarket, I was hoping we could do something like this over time, this is my eighth season with Newmarket and including COVID it’s nearly ten years, it’s a lot of time, effort and energy, I’ve been very fortunate to experience success as a player, I wanted the players, club and management to experience this. This is history, this is absolute history, no one in Clare has done this before, those medals are real, they will never be taken away from them, we’ve put in a huge effort since June of this year, I’m thrilled to get over the line”.

“There’s a lot of good clubs in Clare, everyone is trying hard and doing the best they can, it is competitive. This has never been done before by a Clare team, that has been a motivating factor for me in the many years I’ve been involved with the club, I was hoping to do as part of the team with the players and my friends around me but I’m as proud now as I would be if I was playing or involved in the squad, it is a huge achievement, hopefully this is a kickstart for the rest of the clubs to start kicking on, Avenue are doing really well and have been progressing, Shannon Town in recent years have been doing very well, Bridge Utd and other clubs too, there’s a lot of good players and people involved in Clare soccer, it definitely puts us on the map in terms of that”.

Flan Sheedy and Paddy Purcell. Photograph: Joe Buckley

In his speech, captain Eoin Hayes noted that it was testament to Paddy that he didn’t take a year out following the sudden death of his father, John in October. Without question, had he been alive, John would have been one of the first supporters in Jackman Park before kick-off and the Shannon man was incredibly proud of all that his son had achieved on and off the field.

“Dad was probably over-proud in a way, he would back you to the nth degree, I know he is looking down on us and on me, I’ve been thinking about him non-stop since he died, it’s six months to the day yesterday, I know he’s been there on my shoulder since the start of the season. I have a picture from one of our first early games against Lifford, it’s myself and the management team on the sideline and Dad is in the background, I’ve kept it close to my heart all season, I’ve been talking to him and I know he’s looking down and is very proud,” Paddy noted.

Composure remained a recurring theme in their display, Purcell believed. “We don’t really get too high or too low, we try to keep as balanced as we can on the sideline, they had a man sent off with a few minutes to go, it definitely helped us to get a stronghold on the game, equally they had a chance in the last few minutes and they could have nicked it, Shane made a fantastic save and that is football, it is fine lines, it can go either way on the day. I said before the game we had strong fitness levels, we have lads that can come off the bench with loads of energy, we finish all our games strong and we did again.

“They did have a man sent off which probably helped us but we didn’t panic, we’re playing one of the most experienced junior teams in Ireland, Paul Breen, Adrian Walsh, Christopher Higgins, Jimmy Carr, these guys have two or three FAIs won, they’ve been here and done it, they have Munster Junior Cups in their back pocket. For our lads to show their composure, not panic and of course the lads who came off the bench and the rest of the players in the squad have had an impact and it is testament to them, we brought on some great experience and used it to our advantage”.

Players bought into their set-up this season whether it was trusting them with formations or upping their standards to elevate fitness levels, this proved pivotal in Newmarket reaching the holy grail of junior soccer. “We played a completely different formation to what we’ve played all season tonight, I’m really disappointed for the lads who missed out on injury and the lads who aren’t in the squad today because we’ve a big squad but I’m absolutely thrilled that we were able to use the squad, play with a new formation, we asked players at the start of the season to keep an open mind when we made tweaks and to trust us and what we’re trying to do, we showed that and the squad lads who played today and guys who started were fantastic. Kevin Harnett has been unlucky, he’s had bad injuries this season, it was his first proper game back for us, he was immense while he was on the pitch, there’s a lot of never say die attitudes around the squad”.

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Subscribe for just €3 per month

If you’re here, you care about County Clare. So do we. Did you rely on us for Covid-19 updates, follow our election coverage, or visit The Clare Echo every week for breaking news and sport? The Clare Echo invests in local journalism and we want to safeguard its future in our county. By becoming a subscriber you are supporting what we do, will receive access to all our premium articles and a better experience, while helping us improve our offering to you. Subscribe to clareecho.ie and get the first six months for just €3 a month (less than 75c per week), and thereafter €8 per month. Cancel anytime, limited time offer. T&Cs Apply. www.clareecho.ie.

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