*Darragh Leahy holds onto possession under pressure. Photograph: Joe Buckley

TWO WEEKS on from creating history winning the FAI Junior Cup following a penalty shootout, it was heartbreak for Newmarket Celtic who experienced the opposite side of the coin as Regional Utd claimed their first Munster Junior Cup in very similar circumstances.

Regional Utd 2
Newmarket Celtic 2
Regional win 4-2 on penalties
Venue: Jackman Park, Limerick

Leading 2-0 with eleven minutes on the clock, few if any of the spectators in Limerick would have backed Regional Utd to come back and upset the odds but they did and their reward is a first ever Munster Junior Cup.

Multiple factors led to this, a primary one being the departure of Darragh Leahy at half-time through injury, in our feature interview this week The Clare Echo noted that the Shannon native was arguably one of their greatest signings this season, his absence really hurt and hindered them and it is worth noting Leahy did line out in one of Celtic’s rare defeats this season, the Clare Cup tie against Avenue Utd.

Energy also seemed to fade from Newmarket’s challenge in the second half as Regional continued to press and launch attack after attack. They deserved to pull a goal back and when they did, it fuelled their momentum which resulted in the need for extra time and penalties to determine a winner.

All-out attack was the strategy from Regional at the outset, had they been more clinical and composed in front of goal at this juncture, they could have easily raided for at least two goals in the opening exchanges.

Filip Mostowy had a shot well saved by Shane Cusack, Harvey Cullinan had to deflect Ewan O’Brien’s attempt while Tommy Frawley had a certain goal denied by the post, this was all within the opening six minutes, a timeframe where Regional had four corners and won four frees.

Having survived this pressure, Paddy Purcell’s side managed to open the scoring with their first attempt. An excellent piece of skill from Gearoid O’Brien saw him weave his way towards the danger zone, he offloaded to Darragh Leahy who had a brilliant finish to dink the ball through the legs of Peter Healy and into the back of the net.

Next attack and Celtic hit for another goal. This one from a corner where centre-half Ethan Fitzgerald decided to throw a volley on it, his shot was cleared off the line by Frawley but it hit off netminder Healy and across the line to see the Clare side holding a 2-0 advantage with just eleven minutes on the clock.

Such a response floored Regional who were unable to properly test Shane Cusack for the remainder of the half, they may have but Sixmilebridge’s Filip Mostowy instead picked up a yellow card for diving when he would have been better served to have a shot on goal with twenty minutes on the clock.

Celtic themselves were guilty of not creating decent opportunities, winger Aaron Rudd had three shots on target saved in the final quarter of the opening half, none of which put Peter Healy under significant pressure.

Leahy’s departure at half-time saw Kevin Harnett enter the fray in the heart of midfield pushing Gearoid O’Brien out wide and Eoin Hayes as their main striker. While Hayes did well in this sector, his pace seeing him get past the opposing centre-halves, he was lacking in support whereas Leahy ordinarily does the thankless work to win possession in the air or knock it down to Hayes to create the chances.

Emphasis from the Regional Utd dugout was to attack and up the pace at which they were doing in the opening half. That they did and they turned up the dial on the pressure levels they were putting Newmarket’s defence under. If it wasn’t for goalkeeper Shane Cusack and centre-half Harvey Cullinan they would have pulled a goal back much earlier than they did.

Mostowy came closest with a speculative effort from outside the box on fifty five minutes but Cusack did well to just about flick it over the crossbar. Cullinan managed to tackle Kieran O’Connell when he looked to be getting through on goal with sixty two minutes on the clock.

O’Connell made sure to take the next chance that fell his way and he did quite well to flick the ball past Cusack to bring life back into the Dooradoyle side and sow a doubt in the minds of their opponents.

Centre-half Eduardo Almeida may have missed the target with a header from a free on sixty five minutes but a break around the danger area saw him finish home on seventy two minutes to nab the equaliser and again punish slow reactions in the Celtic defence.

Regional looked to be about to take the lead for the first time when Kieran O’Connell was straight through on goal, Cusack who was outside his box at this stage somehow got a bodypart to the ball and diverted the danger.

Eoin Hayes is fouled. Photograph: Joe Buckley

His opposing number Peter Healy was very fortunate Waterford match official Noel Purcell didn’t penalise him for a penalty at the other end with eighty minutes on the clock. Healy spilled the ball which fell to Eoin Hayes, the Newmarket captain looked set to round Healy and tap home but was taken down but did not receive a penalty or free kick, a decision which left the Celtic dugout furious.

When it came to extra time, the best chance fell to Ronan McCormack in the opening period, a cross from Hayes found him but McCormack was denied by the crossbar. Regional appeared threatening but didn’t test Cusack as they pushed dangerman O’Connell back the field.

Photograph: Joe Buckley

Everything went right for Newmarket in penalties in Jackman Park a fortnight ago but the script was vastly different this time round. Shane Cusack’s first shot was saved well by Peter Healy who saved the second penalty from Eoin Hayes while Ronan McCormack and Harvey Cullinan both hit the target, Regional made no mistake scoring four from four, Kieran O’Connell, Eduardo Almeida, Shannon native Eoin Duff and Oleg Vysochan all dispatching fine penalties to the net ensuring they won the Munster Junior Cup for the first time in their history.

Thirty years on from his father captaining the Askeaton side which came up short against Johnville in the 1993 decider, it was fitting that Kieran O’Connell would lift the Munster Junior Cup and play a captain’s role for Sean Russell’s side. They learned from their first half flurry to take the chances as the game progressed and from the second half on, they were the superior side. O’Connell was also aided by Joey Rushe and Eduardo Almeida in setting the way.

Had they not won, question marks would have been raised about the surprise decision not to start Eoin Duff who is the top scorer in the Limerick Premier Division and maybe Clare bias is showing but the withdrawal of right-winger Brian O’Connor did seem premature but it must be noted that his replacement Oleg Vysochan certainly impacted on proceedings in a positive manner for their side.

Paddy Purcell commiserates with players. Photograph: Joe Buckley

Winning the FAI Junior Cup for the first time will always make the 2022/23 campaign a special one for Newmarket Celtic, that success cannot be taken away from them. However, there has to be a tinge of regret at passing up the opportunity to claim a historic double, especially as it was within touching distance, put simply they had one hand on the trophy while holding a two goal advantage with twenty seven minutes of normal time to play.

On the losing days, every decision comes under scrutiny whereas on the glorious occasions they are viewed as tactical stokes of genius. Stephen Kelly helped to steady the ship when introduced but by this stage Regional had struck for their two goals to be back on level terms and his presence was needed earlier in the second half as they were beginning to pile the pressure on. Harvey Cullinan, Eoin Hayes and Shane Cusack were best for Celtic throughout with Gearoid O’Brien, David McCarthy and Darragh Leahy standout performers in the opening half.

Celtic must now channel their energy into trying to win back the Premier Division title and this setback should provide plenty of motivation for them to end a progressive season on a high.

Regional Utd: Peter Healy; Tommy Frawley, Eduardo Almeida, David Cowpar, Joey Rushe; Ewan O’Brien, Shane Carmody, Brian O’Connor, Ruairi Casserley, Filip Mostowy, Kieran O’Connell.

Subs: Luke Ryan for Frawley (24) (inj), Oleg Vysochan for O’Connor (HT), Eoin Duff for Mostowy (85), Patrick McDonagh for Ryan (87) (inj), Andrew Cowpar for Carmody (96) (inj).

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

Subs: Kevin Harnett for Leahy (HT) (inj), Ronan McCormack for O’Brien (76), Stephen Kelly for McDaid (76), Eunan Doherty for McCarthy (92).

Referee: Noel Purcell

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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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