*Eoin Hayes raises the FAI Junior Cup aloft. 

NEWMARKET CELTIC have created history, becoming the first Clare club to ever win the FAI Junior Cup.

Newmarket Celtic 1
St Michael’s AFC 1
Newmarket win 5-4 on penalties
Venue: Jackman Park, Limerick

It took extra time and it took penalties but the men from the village of Newmarket-on-Fergus, some from Ennis, Shannon, Kilrush and the hills of Donegal came out on a top in an enthralling contest with the titans from Tipperary.

Harvey Cullinan had scored from the penalty spot in the opening half to put the Clare side in the driving seat but David Slattery’s second half strike ensured they would not do it the easy way.

Though it was Newmarket who dominated extra time, St Michael’s crucially never conceded and thus the pinnacle of junior soccer in the country would have to be decided by a penalty shooutout.

At this juncture, Newmarket never missed, they were composed and cool with every finish. Shane Cusack, Eoin Hayes, Garry Higgins, Ronan McCormack and Stephen Kelly all hit the target to ensure Paddy Purcell’s men would be victorious.

An attendance of 2,357 packed into Jackman Park, the Limerick venue in pristine condition, the bulk of the crowd were in the red and white of Celtic, all present to enjoy the club’s greatest day.

Paul Breen’s dismissal for a second bookable offence on eight six minutes aided Newmarket to become the more dominant team in extra team but it is also testament to Darragh Leahy and his ability to consistently upset the opposing back four, a trend which has been a regular feature of Celtic’s remarkable journey.

From the off, Newmarket were the side to tip off but they were also the one to get in control of proceedings early on. They won two corners in a three minute spell as they began to boss the opening exchanges.

By the twenty minute mark, St Michael’s were the more probing of the sides, Shane Cusack was called on to field the ball from the sky preventing danger from two separate crosses from either side of the opposing attack.

Joseph Mulcahy who scored two penalties in their semi-final win over Gorey Rangers had the best of the opportunities on thirty two minutes but his shot fell well wide of the mark.

This let off was a reawakening for the Newmarket challenge. Eoin Hayes did well to put a move together and he pulled a pass across goal but crucially there was nobody to get their feet and manufacture something.

Hayes had a crucial involvement in the next attack, he was fouled by Colin Bargary leaving referee Alin Suteu with little option but to point to the penalty spot and to dish out a yellow card.

Here, Harvey Cullinan stepped up to the plate, the former Sheffield Utd youths player making no mistake with a powerful finish past Adrian Walsh to bring Jackman Park to life on thirty five minutes. Celtic would maintain this 1-0 by the sounding of the half-time whistle.

On the restart, the first chance fell to Leahy but his header trailed wide. St Michael’s feeling the pinch had to force their way into the game, they began to probe and had wides from Edmond O’Dwyer and Russell Quirke.

They got some joy off the third attempt, following two corners in a row, a header from Breen ended up breaking to David Slattery who pounced to stick the ball to the roof of the net.

It continued to be tit for tat for the remainder of the contest. David McCarthy hit the post from a free kick in the final attack and with ninety four minutes played, the final whistle sounded to leave the tie heading to extra time.

Celtic were in control for this spell, the numerical advantage decisive. Eoin Hayes managed to round keeper Adrian Walsh but his shot was saved by the experienced Christopher Higgins.

A flow of chances then came their way in a brief spell, the resulting corner saw Ethan Fitzgerald have a chance but it was pushed out for a corner, this paved the way for a Harvey Cullinan diving header where the outcome was another set piece.

St Michael’s weathered this storm and the best chance of the second period of extra time saw Stephen Kelly get a header on a Ronan McCormack delivery but his effort just went above the crossbar.

In penalties, Joseph Mulcahy drilled low to the left with the first attempt. Then Celtic’s goalkeeper Shane Cusack showed his ability to finish. Christopher Higgins and Eoin Hayes both got joy from the left corner before Cusack pulled off a save from Shane Ryan. Garry Higgins and Adrian Kelliher then converted before a cool as you like move from Ronan McCormack saw him slot home.

Russell Quirke opted for the right corner with what would be St Michael’s final penalty as the experienced Stephen Kelly stepped up to slot home what was the winning penalty and send Newmarket Celtic to the pinnacle of junior soccer.

Scenes of euphoria and emotion greeted the moment that Kelly stuck the ball in the Michael’s net. With one kick, it saw Newmarket become the first Clare club to win the prestigious title.

Their journey started long before this and the community effort made the success worth savouring. With the village of Newmarket-on-Fergus decked in red and white from head to toe, it is a win that will certainly live long in the memory.

In a truly strong collective performance for Paddy Purcell’s men, they had heroes everywhere. Shane Cusack was exceptional, David O’Grady did a job on one of the top talents in junior soccer while Harvey Cullinan demonstrated that his ability can take him to levels far beyond Newmarket.

Eoin Hayes once again showed why he is one of the most respected amateur soccer players in the country and received the man of the match award. Workmanlike displays are always evident when Darragh Leahy, Jack Kelly, Kevin Harnett and Conor McDaid are in the red and white.

Vital contributions were also made by the composed pair of David McCarthy and Ethan Fitzgerald while the quartet of Gearoid O’Brien, Eunan Doherty, Ronan McCormack and Stephen Kelly all made their presence known.

Newmarket Celtic: Shane Cusack; David O’Grady, Ethan Fitzgerald, Harvey Cullinan, Conor McDaid; Jack Kelly, Kevin Harnett, Gearoid O’Brien, David McCarthy, Eoin Hayes, Darragh Leahy.

Subs: Eunan Doherty for Harnett (70), Stephen Kelly for O’Brien (80), Ronan McCormack for McCarthy (100)

St Michael’s: Adrian Walsh; Sean Murphy, Donagh Hickey, Denis John Cremins, Paul Breen, Joseph Mulcahy, Jimmy Carr, Colin Bargary, David Slattery, Edmond O’Dwyer, Russell Quirke.

Subs: Shane Ryan for Bargary (73), Ashley Kelliher for Slattery (83), Christopher Higgins for Carr (89), Rhys Bryon for O’Dwyer (96), Adam McGrath for Murphy (103).

Referee: Alin Suteu
Asst Referees: John Hanney, Paul Shelley
Fourth Official: John Thornton

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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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