BY CHRIS MCNULTY AT JOHN SHERLOCK PARK
CAOLAN Reilly pounced for a 78th minute winner to dump Kildrum Tigers out of the Ulster Junior Cup on Saturday.
The St Johnston side, back in the competition for the first time since 2001 after their return to the Donegal League this season, were left reeling as Reilly netted to seal Cootehill Harps’ comeback.
Jonny McGinty’s 17th minute penalty had given the Tigers hope, but Keith Fannin’s equaliser, just eight minutes later, paved the way for the Cavan outfit to hit back.
Kildrum were under the cosh for long periods and yet they appeared to have got a grip of the tie when Reilly struck to deny Glenn Bovaird’s team a place in the next round.
There seemed little danger when Paddy Hesson swung in a cross from the right flank, but goalkeeper John Roulstone couldn’t hold onto it and Reilly drilled home in a moment that will have haunted the Tigers netminder.
There was still time for Kildrum, but despite the best promptings of player-manager Bovaird and Damien Crossan in the engine room the Station Road outfit didn’t trouble Jamie Smith in the closing moments.
“It’s the way we’ve been playing this year, not creating an awful lot,” Bovaird said.
“I emphasised that the width would be important and I wanted us to get good balls into the box. We didn’t do that often enough.
“The goal came just as we were starting to get on top of things. They didn’t look like scoring.”
Kildrum played second fiddle to Cootehill, whose familiarity with the 3G surface certainly helped, in the early exchanged, but Kildrum broke the deadlock against the run of play. Declan Curtis tumbled to the floor under Corey Smith’s challenge and the hosts were angered as the referee pointed to the spot.
McGinty stepped up and sent a sweet right-footed effort low beyond Smith, sending Kildrum’s travelling hoards wild with delight.
Bovaird said: “Jonny has been hitting penalties for as long as I can remember and he doesn’t mind the big occasion. He stuck it away very well.”
Kildrum held the lead only until the 25th minute. Cootehill captain Shane McCann’s teasing free kick was curled dangerously into the Kildrum area and centre-back Fannin glanced home past Roulstone for the equaliser. There had been warnings sent across Kildrum’s bow beforehand.
Bovaird said: “They were very dangerous from set pieces. We nearly got caught a couple of times just before they scored. Their deliveries were excellent, but we were caught sleeping for the goal.”
Roulstone kept Kildrum in it with a fine save to deny Stevie O’Connor a certain goal soon after, but Kildrum struggled to find a rhythm. The closest they came to regaining the lead was when Rory Feeney rose highest, but his powerful header flew over the target.
Kildrum reverted to a 4-4-2 formation having started with a three-man defence, but the Donegal League representatives – winners of the competition in 2000 – were unable to claw their way back after Reilly put Cootehill in front with 12 minutes remaining.
Bovaird said: “It’s probably the first time this season I’ve had butterflies in my stomach before a game. I’ve played in a few big games and there is nothing better with a club than to be travelling out of the county. Unfortunately we just didn’t put up the performance that we wanted.
“It’s disappointing to lose in the manner we did. The day showed that the club’s on the rise again, we had a big crowd with us and the people in the community have really got behind us.
“We’ve a very local team this year and there are a lot of young lads there who who’ll be the better for the experience.”
COOTEHILL HARPS: Jamie Smith; Tiarnan Reilly, Mark Thornton, Keith Fannin, Corey Smith; Gary Hesson, Shane McCann, Dean Connolly, Paddy Smith; Stevie O’Connor, Caolan Reilly.
Sub: Paddy Hesson for G.Hesson (half-time).
KILDRUM TIGERS: John Roulstone; Brett McGinty, Jonny McGinty, Rory Feeney; Barry O’Donnell, Shane Browne, Damien Crossan, Gary Crossan, Gareth Colhoun; William Lynch, Declan Curtis.
Subs: Glenn Bovaird for Browne (63 mins), Shane McIntyre for Lynch (81 mins).
MILFORD United manager Michael Deeney acknowledges that his struggling team are entering a crucial stage in their season.