*Action from Avenue Utd vs St Michael’s. 

AVENUE UTD have been knocked out of the Munster Junior Cup by St Michael’s AFC.

St Michael’s AFC 2
Avenue Utd 1
Venue: Cahir Park, Tipperary

Despite producing a dominant opening half display, Avenue Utd’s bid to reach a first ever Munster Junior Cup final never materialised as the eight-time champions came to the fore on the restart.

In what was an evenly fought and tight encounter, Avenue’s strong half was not replicated and St Michael’s duly capitalised with two goals in the space of sixteen minutes to totally derail the momentum of their challengers. They will now face Villa FC of Waterford in the provincial final.

Though contributors to The Clare Echo’s monthly soccer podcast did not possess a crystal ball when appearing on the instalment, the concerns regarding Avenue’s second half slumps in big games came home to roost.

Communication, concentration and organisation all seemed to dip from Avenue’s ranks when St Michael’s upped their challenge in the second half. The Tipperary side were threatening with three corners in quick succession, the second of which was well punched away by Luke Woodrow. During this spell, even manager David Russell was alarmed to notice their back post was left vacant.

Therefore it came as no surprise when they surrendered their lead but for the Roslevan based club it won’t dilute their disappointment as they proved their ability to match a fine St Michael’s outfit.

Management opted to stick with Luke Woodrow as goalkeeper with James Tierney missing out on selection. Nnabuike Nneji was moved to a more defensive role than normal which resulted in Eoghan Thynne dropping to the bench, Steven McGann was the more offensive of the central midfielders, both he and Na set the tempo for the Clare Cup champions throughout the opening half.

Once Avenue got to grips with their early nerves, they settled into an early groove. Centre-half DJ Cremins managed to intercept a Steven McGann delivery to Elias Kunz despite looking in the opposite direction, this move with less than three minutes played would have left Kunz through on goal were it not for the first of Cremins’ vital contributions.

Irish international Jimmy Carr came close to opening the scoring on eight minutes, his shot looked to have beaten Luke Woodrow but it hit the side netting. Dylan Casey had a free cleared out of the danger area by Paul Breen in Avenue’s next attack while the next move saw a Cullen McCabe cross pose problems but an Avenue finisher was absent on this occasion.

Early signs to be worried on the communication front were first visible in the first half for Avenue, a goal from Woodrow was ignored by Ronan Kerin so instead of the netminder catching the ball, it was headed in the direction of Joey Mulcahy who narrowly missed the target on twenty four minutes. This followed a blitz of St Michael’s having three corners in a row, the ability to starve off each of these challenges in fact helped to strength Avenue’s belief.

By the half hour mark, Avenue found themselves in front. Mark Roche did very well down the right wing to manufacture a corner, quick reactions from full-back Cullen McCabe ensured he was an unmarked option for a short corner, he delivered a cross into the box six yard box, captain Ronan Kerin used his strength and then managed to kick the ball over the line.

On their next attack, Avenue almost doubled their lead. Mossy Hehir produced a wonderful flick to tee up McGann but his effort was deflected out for a corner.

They could easily have surrendered their one goal lead when Mark Roche was overturned in possession enabling the Tipperary side but Russell Quirke’s booming shot was kept out only by the crossbar.

Action remained with St Michael’s for the remainder of the half, first Woodrow made a save to stop Quirke and then the subsequent cross was narrowly cleared by the head of Dylan Casey to ensure Avenue led 1-0 at the sounding of the half-time whistle.

Pressure was on St Michael’s as the second half resumed but they embraced it as they made it abundantly clear they were intent on grabbing that equaliser as quickly as possible. They threatened with three early corner but by the fifty second minute, DJ Cremins had equalised, the danger was not cleared from a set piece and the centre-half got a deflection to the ball.

Mossy Hehir came close for Avenue when heading a cross from Cullen McCabe but his header lacked sufficient power to worry the experienced Adrian Walsh.

Left-back Jamie Roche picked up a yellow card for a foul on sixty seven minutes and it was the resulting free from Joey Mulcahy that was headed to the back of the net with a brilliant leap by Seanie Guerins that sent last year’s beaten FAI Junior Cup finalists ahead for the first time.

Now facing an uphill challenge, Avenue lacked a sense of vigour that was needed for this ascent. A McGann free was blocked by a towering St Michael’s wall, the resulting long throw from Conor Mullen again highlighted the questionable Avenue communication when Nna snatched the ball away from what would have been a volley off the preferred right boot of Dylan Casey.

Still, time was still with Avenue and were it not for an excellent goal-line headed clearance by Paul Breen then Ronan Kerin would have had a second goal, his header from a Philip Talty corner was kept put on seventy nine minutes. Talty himself had a late chance on ninety five minutes but the coveted equaliser never arrived.

Overall, St Michael’s possessed the greater experience and squad depth which made them the stronger side collectively. They were able to substitute Edmond O’Dwyer fresh from being named as player of the tournament in the Collingwood Cup helping UL to win the title for the first time. O’Dwyer is a key player for Michael’s but there is enough quality around him to ensure it doesn’t all fall on his shoulders.

That said, Nnabuike won this particular battle but Avenue were too reliant on him and Steven McGann for moments of inspiration. Mossy Hehir threatened throughout the tie and was unlucky to be substituted while Cullen McCabe also did well. Hindsight is always a handy tool and when bringing on Eoghan Thynne so early in the second half, matters may have been aided if he was put in his more familiar CDM move rather than on the left side of midfield.

For the winners, Paul Breen, Joey Mulcahy, Russell Quirke and DJ Cremins were standout performers.

St Michael’s AFC: Adrian Walsh; Sean Patrick Guerins, DJ Cremins, Paul Breen, Sean Murphy; Cillian Coonan; Joey Mulcahy, Rhys O’Regan, Russell Quirke; Edmond O’Dwyer, Jimmy Carr.

Subs: Colin Bargary for O’Dwyer (70), David Slattery for O’Regan (80), Ashley Kelleher for Quirke (87), Cian Fadden for Mulcahy (95).

Avenue Utd: Luke Woodrow; Cullen McCabe, Conor Mullen, Dylan Casey, Jamie Roche; Nnabuike Nneji; Mark Roche, Steven McGann, Mossy Hehir; Ronan Kerin; Elias Kunz.

Subs: Eoghan Thynne for Kunz (51), Philip Talty for M Roche (74) (inj), Mikey Dinan for Hehir (86).

Referee: Brian Higgins

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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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