Swilly Rovers: 0
Mervue United: 1
By Aidan O’Donnell at Triagh-A-Loch
SWILLY Rovers were denied a place in the last eight of the FAI U17 Challenge Cup after Conor Melody struck a heartbreaking 90th minute winner to seal Mervue United’s progression at Triagh-a-Loch yesterday afternoon.
The Ramelton outfit had defended so admirably for long periods and it appeared like the game was destined for extra-time and quite possibly penalties to see who would advance.
However, a momentary lapse in concentration at the back was punished in the most ruthless of fashion as Melody ghosted onto a throw-in before sending goalkeeper Caolan Bolton the wrong way with a close-range finish.
It was a cruel blow for Swilly who managed to keep their opponents at bay in a relatively one-sided second half without coming too under the cosh.
Mervue arrived in the north-west having scored 17 goals in their three previous games so it was no great surprise to see the home side – forced to switch the game to Fanad on account of a waterlogged pitch at Swilly Park – employ a somewhat defensive strategy that saw Ronan Curtis playing up front on his own.
The Swilly front-man had a couple of chances early in the first half but as the game went on was forced to drop deeper and deeper to pick up possession as Mervue began to take control.
Swilly manager Jim McCahill acknowledged the gulf in resources between the two clubs but felt his players matched their counterparts the whole way and were bitterly unlucky not to force at least extra-time.
“We lost five players from last year and it’s very hard to bring five more in and expect the same results but we’re delighted with the effort of the lads,” he said.
“Half of that side today were 14 or 15 so I’m very, very proud of them. It probably should’ve went to extra-time. At the end up it was just a goal out of nowhere. We couldn’t have asked for more.”
Swilly began the game bright and the industrious Curtis was proving a real handful for the Mervue defence in the opening exchanges. The striker muscled his way through on two occasions in the first ten minutes but on both counts was denied by goalkeeper Peter Healy.
At the other end, Mervue were finding it hard to navigate their way through the well-drilled Swilly rearguard, with Padraic Ferry and Conor McGonagle both producing excellent last-ditch blocks to deny Padraig Cunningham and Antaine O’Laoi.
Caolan Bolton also had to be alert to keep hold of a long-range Ryan Manning free-kick, while the Swilly ‘keeper did well to race from his line and smother Connolly.
The visitors were then left feeling aggrieved that Bolton and McGonagle got away with two late challenges on Cunningham and Connolly, while the Galway side also had a shout for a penalty turned down by referee Donal McCafferty after the ball appeared to strike Ferry on his upper abdomen/shoulder region.
The management staff of the Galway side pleaded for an explanation from assistant referee Con McLaughlin as the sides made their way to the dressing room at half-time but the official was adamant the ball struck the upper part of Ferry’s chest and not his arm.
Mervue raced out of the blocks after the restart as Cunningham forced another excellent stop out of Bolton, before the ball rebounded into the path of O’Laoi who would’ve opened the scoring were it not for a brilliant last-gasp clearance from McGonagle.
The away side were well on top at this stage but were proving wasteful in front of goal – O’Laoi, Connolly and Cunningham all passing up a series of half-chances.
James McCahill, the Swilly manager’s son, was enjoying a fine game in the middle of the park and he was desperately unlucky not to give his side the lead against the run of play, having seen his shot from an Enda McCormick corner deflect agonisingly wide.
Mervue, though, continued to charge forward in search of the breakthrough and it almost arrived through second-half replacement John Miguel Solier, whose sweetly-struck half-volley was kept out by a determined Bolton.
However, the Swilly ‘keeper could do nothing to thwart the winner in the last minute of the game as Connolly flicked on a Gary Bailey throw-in into the path of Melody who finished emphatically into the far corner, having been left unmarked inside the area.
It was a devastating blow for the Ramelton side, who reached the semi-finals of the U16 competition last year with many of the players on show yesterday. However, McCahill believes the experience will stand to them in years to come.
“Our boys didn’t come out in the second half for 15 minutes but I think a draw would’ve been a fair result,” he added.
“Their bus would be worth more than our whole club – you wouldn’t know who was the League of Ireland outfit. There’s a lot to be proud about when you consider the majority of the lads are all from around the Ramelton area. A lot of the boys will still be there at the age bracket for the next three years.”
Swilly Rovers: Caolan Bolton; Conor McGonagle, Padraic Ferry, Kyle Burke, Dominic Hull; Gavin Grier, Nathan McElwaine, James McCahill, Adam Serrinha, Enda McCormick; Ronan Curtis. Subs: Shay Durning (McElwaine, 57 mins), Cormac Toland (Grier, 68 mins).
Mervue United: Peter Healy; Daniel Barry, Paul Healy, Robert Carroll, Gary Bailey; Conor Melody, Moise Assagbo, Ryan Manning, Antaine O’Laoi; Padraig Cunningham, Andrew Connolly. Sub: John Miguel Solier (Cunningham, 70 mins).
Referee: Donal McCafferty.
Swilly Rovers and Kilmacrennan Celtic will battle it out in the Under 14 Champions League Final tonight.