Colleges & Universities Football League ¼ Final
GMIT Castlebar 1-2 NCI
A heartbreaking finish to an enthralling encounter left the footballers of GMIT Castlebar ruing their wayward finishing and watching their dreams of a place in the national semi-finals slip cruelly away.
Having topped the group in Division 1 West they faced into this tie with home advantage and no lack of confidence. In the opening minutes a brutal challenge on Kevin Bourke set the scene for a bruising encounter but it never boiled over and on the contrary the majority of the first half was strangely devoid of urgency. Castlebar were marginally the more comfortable and certainly had the more attacking opportunities but the final ball into the box was invariably met by a grateful NCI head.
When Colin McDonnell moved out to the right to deliver a free kick, (won by Chris Rowland who was tormenting the left full) the resultant clearing header set up a swift counter attack. What was nothing more than a hopeful up field clearance should have been easily dealt with but confusion over who should deal with the threat should have given way to an almighty boot to safety. But the speedy Dublin winger made the most of the hesitation to sweep between the two centre halves. In fairness to him he had shown flashes that he was a danger and as he cut in on the goal from the right he did everything right. Paul Martin in the GMIT goal made a valiant effort to keep it out and at full stretch he got a strong hand to the ball but his deflection wasn't enough to keep it out and it agonisingly crept in at the far post.
Undeterred, the Castlebar men fought to get back into the game but as they did they left gaps at the back and but for a truly miraculous save by Paul Martin they would have found themselves further in arrears. Following the flight of a cross flashed in from the left Paul was quickly re adjusting his feet to cover the far side of the goal when a lightning volley form point blank range seemed destined for the net. With his body already past the altered trajectory of the ball he somehow managed to sweep his trailing hand up to scoop the ball over the bar, it was an incredible save and immediately renewed the Castlebar fight back.
When Daniel Burke got hold of the ball he swiftly played it out to the right where Augustine Ademoye ghosted past the left full and lifted the ball calmly over the advancing keeper. The large home crowd were already starting their celebrations as Jonathan Maloney came in at the far post to apply the finishing touch, inexplicably his connection managed to steer the ball the wrong side of the post and the Dubliners were let of the hook.
Half time saw a reshuffle with the talented Owen Hoare, clearly suffering from a hamstring strain, making way for Aidan Fergsuon in an effort to release Chris Rowland and Gus Ademoye into more attacking roles. Castlebar started to exert their control over midfield where the Ballyglass trio of Kevin Bourke, Daniel Bourke and Jonathan Morrin were really starting to dictate matters. Alongside this dominance Jonathan Maloney hassled and harried the Dublin rearguard constantly forcing several errors and poor clearances and the cracks were beginning to appear in the NCI defence. A horror challenge from the Dublin Captain left Jonathan Morrin blood-soaked, an in need of 8 stitches, while his midfield partner Kevin Burke was soon to follow him from the field with an injury. In the resultant shake up Chris Rowland took over the centre of midfield and showed he was well up to the task of controlling the game from the centre circle, while the introduction of Darren O'Grady and Daniel Purcell added new spark and injected pace down the flanks. Indeed Darren very nearly made an immediate impact as he slid in at the far post only to arrive fractionally too late to grab the equaliser. But it wasn't long coming; Gus and Daniel were combining to great effect on the right and when Daniel threaded a neat ball through Jonathan won the ensuing chase to poke the ball past the onrushing keeper. From here to the end it was one way traffic with Castlebar on an all out assault. Man of the Match Jonathan Maloney astounded everyone with his work rate and never say die attitude. On one such occasion he chased down a defender by the corner flag, disposed him and played a lovely ball to Gus who angled his body to deflect the ball wide of the keeper, unfortunately it hit the post and the Dubliners were let off the hook.
The one threat the Dubliners were posing was from their centre half at set pieces. As the game entered the third minute of injury time a throw in from the right wasn't dealt with and from a crowded box an NCI boot applied an immaculate strike to send the ball into the bottom corner, the MCI men into raptures and the home team into deep despair.
Three more minutes gave rise to two chances to rescue the tie but neither found the required result and it was NCI who advanced to the semis. It was very harsh on a defensive unit of Paul Mcloughlin Seamus Higgins and Colin Mcdonnell who had been in total control throughout only to see two lapses punished ruthlessly, but that is what you expect at this level.
No respite as the big games keep coming as next week they host possibly the top team in the country at the moment as Dublin Institute of Technology come to St Mary's for round 2 of the CFAI Umbro Cup on Wednesday Feb 3rd @ 2.00. Having already pulled off one giant killing feat, defeating GMIT Galway, they face a team packed with internationals that topped the league in the east. But stung by Wednesday's defeat the Castlebar boys are looking forward to the challenge and will certainly make the trip west a difficult one for the DIT men.
Paul Martin,Paul McLoughlin, Seamus Higgins, Colin McDonnell, Augsutine Ademoye, Chris Rowland, Daniel Burke, Kevin Burke (Capt), Jonathan Morrin, Owen Hoare Jonathan maloney.
Subs- Aidan Ferguson, Darren O Grady, Daniel Purcell.
Coach - Brian Coffey