Joy of the Rovers
Ashford Rovers 4 Rathnew AFC 1
Ashford and Rathnew met in the neutral venue of Wicklow town last Saturday evening to play under lights in the inaugural Tommy Heffernan Memorial Shield.
From the off, it was clear Rathnew were going to be under pressure.
This was in no small part down to the fact that the Rathnew ranks were depleted with both their Senior and Junior B football teams lining out in knockout championship games earlier in the day.
Rathnew lined out in a 4-4-2 formation with Jordan Graham and Evan Doyle leading the line while Ashford went with their familiar 4-3-3 formation which featured new goalkeeper Stephen Doyle.
Rathnew started brightly with Josh Graham earning a free after a marauding run down the left wing before the left-back saw a shot deflected behind for a corner.
After a nervy moment inside the six-yard box from the corner, Ashford cleared the danger and unleashed what would be the first of many quick counter-attacks from the men in blue.
Danny Byrne and Jason Taylor both have pace to burn and Ashford are a team set up to take full advantage of this.
From this particular attack, Danny Byrne got in behind the defence and rounded the keeper but his shot flashed across the face of the goal from a tight angle.
It wasn't long before the incisive Ashford attack reaped dividends and unsurprisingly the opening goal came from a quick break after Ashford won the ball in their own half.
A quick pass down the right wing found Jason Taylor who aimed a cross for Danny Byrne at the far post. Edward Doyle did well to get down and parry the cross away from Danny Byrne but Robbie Eyre arrived late into the box and smashed into the gaping net to send his side into the lead.
Moments later, Rathnew found themselves two goals behind.
A failure to deal with a simple long ball forward from deep on the right wing allowed Danny Byrne to nip in past the Rathnew defence before the Ashford captain found the bottom corner of the net with a well-placed finish.
Rathnew did lift their game in the aftermath of this goal, going about their task with more intensity throughout the field but Ashford looked a team that was on the same wavelength across the pitch and this showcased in their third goal of the game.
Anto Byrne picked up possession at right back and sent a high, diagonal pass forward to expertly pick out the run of Danny Byrne in behind the Rathnew right back and right centre back.
Byrne looked to have beaten goalkeeper Edward Doyle on the outside but the Rathnew keeper got down well to pull off a save.
Unfortunately for Doyle and for the second time of the game, he saw one of his saves rebound nicely for an Ashford player.
This time it was Shane Dunne who found himself in the right place at the right time and the midfielder spun before finding the back of the net.
Rathnew introduced Kyle Ryan and Kyle Devlin at the break in an effort to spark their troops into an unlikely comeback but the first real chance of the second half fell to Ashford with Jay Taylor played in behind but shot wide from a narrow angle.
Rathnew did pull a goal back early in the second half and it truly was a goal of the highest order. A diagonal ball forward from Josh Graham found Jordan Graham.
The front man took his first touch with his chest but rather than cushion the ball down to his feet Graham used his chest to flick the ball over an advancing Ashford defender at the edge of the box before sliding a low shot past the despairing dive of Stephen Doyle.
While this gave Rathnew a glimmer of hope, they simply could not create a clear-cut chance to get within a goal of Ashford in order to apply real pressure and it was little surprise when Ashford eventually added a fourth through yet another quick counter-attack.
Danny Byrne took down the ball on the run with the deftest of touches before laying on for substitute John Connors who made no mistake to make it 4-1 and to put the game beyond doubt for his side.
Ashford Rovers (4-3-3): Stephen Doyle, Anto Byrne, Karl Earls, Michael Taylor, Andrew Reilly, Shane Dunne, Finn Brookes, Brendan Manning, Jay Taylor, Danny Byrne, Robbie Eyre. Subs: John Connors, Andy Earls, Shane Farrell, Ruadhan Fallon-Verbreggen, Conor Brennan, Joe Haskins, Jamie Byrne.
Rathnew AFC (4-4-2): Edward Doyle, Jordan Quinn, Jason Devlin, Dean Franey, Josh Graham, Tom Smullen, Johnny Byrne, Sean Paul Dunne, Jonah Graham, Evan Doyle, Jordan Graham. Subs: Kyle Ryan, Christian Kearney, Kyle Devlin, Keith Doyle, Stuart Murphy, Daragh Hosey.