*Newmarket Celtic players celebrate Eoin Hayes’ goal. Photograph: Joe Buckley

NEWMARKET CELTIC’s run to the semi-finals of the FAI Junior Cup is helping to put their players and the Clare District Soccer League on the map, their manager has said.

Celtic advanced to the last four of the national competition for the second time after overcoming Crumlin Utd 2-0 at McDonough Memorial Park on Sunday afternoon.

Paddy Purcell who transitioned straight into management after retiring last summer, moving from the heart of the Newmarket defence to the role of manager is more than pleased as his side remain in the hunt for national, provincial and county honours. “In our wildest dreams we couldn’t have hoped for this, since the start of the season we’ve laid out our plan and to be honest this wasn’t in the plan, working on ourselves, our standards and maintaining the commitment and levels required to compete well every week is what the focus has been, this has been the rewards of the focus. It is going to be a busy schedule but a good headache”.

Speaking to The Clare Echo, the former League of Ireland great said of his charges, “I’m very proud, really proud of the players and the backroom team who have been working hard, the commitment that lads have shown all season whether it’s training and asking them to do the right things or planning, we got the result on the day and I’m proud we played the game and not the occasion, it was a good tight game but we created the better chances”.

Harvey Cullinan’s penalty was the only goal in the opening half but Purcell acknowledged Newmarket should have been further ahead at the break. “We had three or four really good chances in the first half, I thought after not taking the fourth one that it was going to be one of those days but luckily for us we did our goal albeit it came from the penalty spot but at that stage we were well on top and glad to take it, I thought we could have been ahead one or two up at half time which would have made it more comfortable but these games and this stage is always tight, you saw again it came down to the last minute when we nicked our second goal to put the game to bed, up that stage it could have went either way”.

No real danger was posed at the other end for that opening half with only an Ethan Fitzgerald pass back offering Crumlin the chance to score via an indirect free, an opportunity the Dublin side snuffed. “Shane had very little to do and the backline didn’t really have a lot to do either, they kept a good shape, our backline really dealt with the long balls, there was other times when it was a bit dangerous when we didn’t pick up the second ball but other than that we had very little to do defensively in the first half. It was slightly different in the second half, they naturally got a foothold in the game and caused us a lot of tough moments and a lot of pressure, luckily enough we held our resolve and managed to see it”.

When questions were asked of the Newmarket defence, they crucially didn’t concede any goals. “I don’t care about the goals going forward, I care about the clean sheets, I’m proud the players were able to withstand the pressure. They changed it up, they brought on three players and went with a different shape, they were more a bit direct which asked a different question of us than the first half, I’m very proud and happy as a defender that we kept a clean sheet, hopefully we will have a few more of them to come this season”.

Sunday’s quarter-final will be remembered by many of the younger spectators for years to come and the importance of inspiring the next generation was noted by Purcell. “There was a lot of people here today, it makes you proud and it’s good for the club, the community and Clare soccer, we’re a small league relative to some of the other big leagues around the country and you want to try put the league on the map and get the players in this league the respect and visibility they deserve, people from around the country are looking at us and it’s great to have that for the young people coming down to see their A team compete in quarter-finals and days like this, it’s very rewarding and to be honest it’s what it is all about”.

As Newmarket continue to progress, more players will be chomping for game-time and the competition for places is a welcome headache for Paddy and his management team of Eoin O’Brien and Stephen Austin. “The lads are very understanding as a group that we have a big squad and it takes everybody, it has done and we’ve used everybody this season in differing stages, the games midweek have given us a great opportunity to play players who need game time and to put their hand up, some lads have really done that and used the opportunity, they’ve progressed from being on the periphery of the squad to starting or a guaranteed name on the bench. Our young players getting the experience around a team doing well and to get on the pitch and get those extra games is trying to build us all for seasons to come”.

They will welcome Ballynanty Rovers to Clare for the FAI Junior Cup semi-final next month and a very stiff test is expected. “We know they are a really good side, they have a few young players coming through but a lot of experience in the group, a lot of lads who have been around Limerick soccer for a good few years and have competed in quarter-finals and semi-finals of FAI and Munster Juniors, we know that it’s going to be a really contentious match, it’s going to be tight like all games at this stage, we’re expecting a tough game but to be honest we’re not looking that far ahead. We’ve a lot of time to do our homework, we know Ballynanty are a strong club steeped in tradition, a good team for many years and they are flying it this season, we’re going to expect a tough contest in the semi-final”.

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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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