ST Brendan's Park's bid to lift the Munster Champions League Cup proved to be a bridge too far at Clonreask in West Limerick on Saturday when they were comprehensively beaten by an excellent Pike Rovers side from Limerick City.
The Tralee side were rank outsiders going into the game and the manner in which Pike Rovers won shows what a great side they are. Statistics also shows this as they won the FAI Junior Cup last year and this is a competition in which over 600 teams compete.
The Limerick side came off the blocks like a greyhound winner at the Irish Derby and never let their opponents settle on the ball pressing them and putting them under pressure at every given opportunity. Their combination play was one of their admirable quailties and when chances presented themselves they showed clinical finishing. They were always that yard ahead of their opponents and were excellent in all departments of play.
Despite looking a bit nervous on the ball early on The Park contained them well enough in the opening 14 minutes with Con Barrett a tower of strength at the back and Ryan Downey excellent also defending well and running out of defence to try and set up attacks. But with the pressure they were under a breakthrough had to come and when it did the Park defence was exposed with 2 goals in a 5 minute spell.
The first came after 15 minutes with a swift move down the left flank with Eddie O Donovan delivering an excellent cross to Dave Ryan and his glancing header from 6 yards gave the Park goalie Jamie Kelly no chance.
Five minutes later The Park goalie was picking the ball out of the net again with John Tierney doing the spade work to create an opening for Dave Ryan who delivered the ball into the goalmouth to Keith Harnett and he took it down beautifully and smashed a thunderous volley to the bottom corner. Just past the half hour mark they created another great chance and a bicycle kick from Alan Barry was only inches wide.
In the final 15 minutes of the first half The Park got a bit of a grip on the game and created a few reasonable scoring opportunities. Mark O'Sullivan provided a great ball to Anthony Murphy but he skyed his effort from outside the box. Then O'Sullivan was set up by David Courtney but he shot wide.
Their closest effort came in the 40th minute when Fergal Maunsell fed Mike Conway and his shot was just inches outside the post with the Pike Rovers keeper beaten. Just on the stroke of half time they created another chance but Pat McCarthy was unable to test the keeper. Indeed, the most disappointing aspect of all these chances is that the Pike Rovers goalkeeper did not have to make any save.
While the Tralee side played second fiddle to their opponents in the first half they were still in the game at half time as if they got a goal back the game would be wide open again.
However, 12 minutes into the second half it was game set and match for Pike Rovers after a schintillating move involving Eddie O'Donovan and John Tierney put lightening fast striker Dave Ryan through on goals and he provided a sublime finish. They rubbed further salt in the wound on the hour mark when man of the match Dave Ryan left defenders in his wake to slip the ball in to Alan Barry and he had no difficulty finding the net from close range.
Now it was a damage limitation exercise for The Park after this and to their credit they battled gamely right up to the final whistle.
While The Park will be disappointed with the result they can have no complaints as they were well beaten by a far superior side on the day. However they also had some great performers especially Con Barrett at the back who was supreme in the air and Ryan Downey at full back who was excellent using the ball well making good clearnaces and tried to set up attacks out of defence whenever he could. It was a bit of hit and miss at midfield but Fergal Maunnsell was playing well unil he sustained an injury and had to be replaced but they did not have the penetration power up front to get goals.
The Tralee side have been great ambassadors of Kerry soccer in the provincial competition and to get to the final was a great achievement.
The Park now just have to pick themselves up as next Sunday they have another big game when they play Dublin side Kingswood FC in the 64 of the FAI Junior Cup at Christy Leahy Park. Park FC: Jamie Kelly, David Magee, Ryan Downey, Shane Brosnan, Con Barrett, Fergal Maunsell, Pa McCarthy, Michael Conway, Mark O'Sullivan, Anthony Murphy, David Courtney. Subs: David Clifford for Fergal Maunsell, Paudie Bailey for David Courtney, Adrian Quirke for Anthony Murphy. PIKE ROVERS: Gary Neville, Gavin O'Shea, Eddie O'Donovan, Pat Mullins, Conor Moleney, Eoin Hanrahan, Keith Harnett, John Tierney, Jason Heffernan, Alan Barry, Dave Ryan. Subs: Martin Deedy for Eddie O'Donovan, Paul Donna for Jason Heffernan, Jake Mulcahy for Eoin Hanrahan. REFEREE: Donie Gorman (Limerick)