Milk Cup campaign goes a bit sour for talented Dundalk side
THE Dundalk U15 Squad returned from their Milk Cup Campaign last Friday having finished in a disappointing 20th place - a position that sadly didn't reflect the expectations or capabilities of the squad nor the spirited performances of the Dundalk lads over the week-long tournament.
The Dundalk side found themselves in one of the most difficult groups alongside tournament favourites, and eventual winners, Everton. Also in their group was a much fancied Swindon Town side, and well organised neighbours Armagh. The opening fixture in Portrush against Armagh was billed as a 'must-win' encounter and the Dundalk side started brilliantly, displaying plenty of skill and desire.
Centre midfielders Aaron Khan and Christopher Sweeney combined well and created a number of purposeful attacks. Indeed Sweeney was most unlucky not to score early on with a super strike that hit the crossbar, while left winger Vinnie Reilly also went close with a shot that found the side netting.
Dundalk's sustained efforts paid off early in the second half when Eoin McDonnell made the breakthrough, scoring a great individual goal after dribbling his way through the Armagh defence.
Unfortunately Dundalk's lead was short lived and the Orchard County were back on level terms inside three minutes scoring a rebound after an inital shot was only half cleared. Armagh then seized the momentum and went on to take the lead scoring direct from a free kick that was cruelly deflected goalward.
Dundalk dug deep and came close to finding an equaliser through forward Cillan Cunningham who forced a fine save from the Armagh keeper. However, at the final whistle, Dundalk were left empty handied despite being well in the game.
Next up was Everton and the gulf between the two sides was as expected. Dundalk's extra defensive formation managed to hold out until stoppage time in the first half when the Toffees eventually found the net. It was 'backs to the wall' stuff throughout and in the end a 3-0 defeat was no disgrace against the best side in the tournament.
In truth the scoreline could have been more if it wasn't for some excellent goalkeeping from Rory Duffy who pulled off some spectacular saves. The cause was also aided by brilliant tackling from Shane Breen, who acquitted himself well on the right side of midfield, and super defending from Dundalk's 'player of the tournament' centre back James Corrigan, who was the equal of any of the Evertonian players on view.
The loyal travelling Dundalk support, including former Milk Cup captain Steve Staunton, were treated to a brilliant comeback display on Wednesday in Dundalk's best match of the week against a strong Swindon Town. Within five minutes Dundalk found themselves trailing 2-0 and fears of a whitewash were high.
However Dundalk showed great character to fight their way back into the game. Spirited work from Killian Staunton up front earned his side a free-kick on the edge of the box which Vinnie Reilly converted with an excellent strike.
In the second half Dundalk played with a renewed belief with Dion Conlon and Matthew Lyons impressing in midfield. Swindon had further chances but were denied by the quick reactions of keeper David Anderson and centre back Aaron Casey. Chances at the other end were few but the introduction of Eolann Aiken late on paid off as the Ardee player cut in from the left wing and fired home a last minute equaliser giving Dundalk an unlikely share of the spoils.
Hopes were high going into the Plate semi-final against Fermanagh on Thursday and an encounter against Ipswich Town in the final looked on the cards after Eoin McDonnell put Dundalk ahead with a cracking shot inside five minutes. Cian McDonald and Danny O'Brien combined well down the left flank as Dundalk looked to put the game beyond reach. Unfortunately poor ball retention gave the Ulster side too much possession and in the end Femanagh found an equaliser and went on to win the tie 4-3 on penalties. A deflated Dundalk side had to pick themselves up for one more encounter against San Luis de Collina from Chile. But despite the best efforts of captain Sean Murphy in midfield, and Caoimhin Leonard up front, a tired Dundalk lost out to the more clinical South Americans.
Despite the results, the Dundalk lads acquitted themselves well throughout the week and enjoyed the experience of a lifetime rubbling shoudlers with players from all over the world.
Dundalk: Aaron Khan (Dromin Utd), Eolann Aiken, David Anderson, Dion Conlon (Ardee Celtic), Rory Duffy, Matthew Lyons, Cian McDonald (Bellurgan Utd), Sean Murphy, Danny O'Brien, Cillian Staunton, Vincent Smith (Quay Celtic), Shane Breen, Killian Cunningham, Caoimhin Leonard, Christopher Sweeney (Glenmuir Utd), James Corrigan (Rock Celtic), Aaron Casey, Eoin McDonnell (Shamrocks FC), Coaches: Gerry Cooney, John McKeever, Raymond Trimble, Barney Connolly.