THE Park appeared to be bowing out of the FAI Junior Cup on Sunday at Christy Leahy Park when they trailed Kingswood FC from Dublin 3-2 as the game went deep into added time but they came back from the dead with Shane Brosnan heading home the most dramatic of equalisers in the sixth minute of added time.
More drama was to follow as extra-time failed to decide the issue and it went to the lottery of a penalty shoot-out at the end where Park goalkeeper Jamie Kelly was the hero saving three spot kicks. The Tralee side showed great character and commitment to keep going right up to the final whistle and got the reward their endeavour merited at the end.
The winners starting team showed three changes from the team that lost to Pike Rovers a week earlier with Martin Bowler starting instead of David Magee at full back and Adrian Quirke and David Clifford replacements for Fergal Maunsell and Anthony Murphy.
This was a cup tie of the very highest calibre, played at a frantic pace between two very committed sides ending in nailbiting tension. It was an epic and enthralling encounter that had supporters from both sides on their toes to the very end. If you blinked you would miss something in this game as it was an absorbing affair full of excitement, free flowing football, hard tackles and drama with the outcome on a knife edge right up to the final whistle.
Referee Seamus O'Mahony almost ran out of space in his notebook with the yellow card count running into double figures while two red cards were brandished before it was over. This was a robust and tempestious game that threatened to boil over at times but referee O'Mahony did an excellent job under extreme pressure and was always in control of the game.
The game got off to a great start for the home side as they went ahead after eight minutes with Mark O'Sullivan providing a fantastic through ball to Mike Conway who finished from close range. However, the visitors levelled after 20 minutes when The Park defence did not avert the danger from a corner kick and when two of their defenders collided Kingswood took full advantage and Nicholas Byrne pounced to drill the ball home.
The Park moved ahead again in the 40th minute in a great move involving Mark O'Sullivan and Pa McCarthy with the latter setting up David Clifford who showed great composure to finish to the net in style. They had a great chance to extend their lead shortly afterwards when O'Sullivan set up McCarthy but instead of controlling the ball he rushed his shot and it was well wide of the target.
Five minutes into the second half the game was all square again when Kingswood took advantage of inadequate defending from a corner and Ciarán Bisset was quickest to the ball and and rifled the ball to the net.
Now the yellow card count was increasing rapidly and it looked only a matter of time before some player would see red. This transpired in the 78th minute when Park's Mark O'Sullivan was sent off for a second yellow card offence.
Then things went horribly wrong for The Park when the unfortunate Pa Bailey who had an excellent game left a back pass far too short for goalkeeper Jamie Kelly and Sean Casey was ready and waiting to dispatch the ball to the net.
Park manager Tommy Naughton then went for broke by bringing on his three substitutes and it gave the team a new emphasis. However, Kingswood should have scored when sub Brian Coleman put in Nicholas Byrne but with only the keeper to beat he drove it over the top. Then the sides were even numerically again when Kingswwood's Sean Casey was sent off for a second yellow card offence.
It looked as if The Park's exit from the cup was assured as the game went deep into added time, and it was last chance saloon time for them when they got a free kick out on the wing in the 96th minute. It was floated into the goalmouth by Pa McCarthy and Shane Brosnan soared high and his glancing header found the top corner of the net for an absolutely sensational equaliser, which sent the game into extra-time.
Kingswood had a great chance to go ahead again in the first period of extratime but David Bracken could not finish with only The Park keeper to beat.
With neither side able to break the deadlock it progressed to the penalty shoot-out. Jamie Kelly took the plaudits here saving three penalties and with Adrian Quirke, David Clifford and Pa McCarthy scoring for The Park they won 32.
What a difference a week in sport can make. Last week The Park were on a low after losing the Champions League final but seven days later they received sweet compensation to earn a place in the last 32 of the FAI Junior Cup. If they can get a home draw in the next round it would enhance their chances of progressing further in the competition. THE PARK: Jamie Kelly, Martin Bowler, Ryan Downey, Shane Brosnan, Con Barrett, Adrian Quirke, Michael Conway, Mark O'Sullivan, Stephen O'Sullivan, David Clifford, Pa McCarthy. Subs: Anthony Murphy for Michael Conway, Fiachra Dunne for Stephen O'Sullivan, David Courtney for Martin Bowler. KINGSWOOD FC: Tommy Madden, Eddie Evans, Ian Bisset, Karl Moore, Colin Lawlor, Sean Casey, Robbie Gaynor, Ciarán Bisset, David Bracken, Nicholas Byrne, Gary Kenney. Subs: Brian Coleman for Nickolos Byrne, Clifford Baker for Eddie Evans. REFEREE: Seamus O'Mahony
Before the game a minute's silence was observed for the late John Joe Naughton who died during the week and was a legend in the Park club.
The FAI Junior Cup game between Killarney Athletic and Clare side Bridge United was postponed on Sunday due to the death of Frank O'Reilly, father of Athletic full back Brian O'Reilly. Condolences are extended to his family.