EIRCOM LEAGUE PLAY-OFF FINAL SPECIAL
By Marcus Cavaroli at O2 Park A PARTICULARLY contagious form of Saturday night fever hit Drogheda at the weekend, following the dramatic eircom League play-off final triumph at O2 Park.
Celebrations lasted long into the night after Drogheda United overturned a 2-0 first-leg deficit to beat Galway on aggregate, thanks to an extra time goal from Danny O’Connor.
The 22-year-old midfielder, one of the club’s part-time players, was still on cloud nine this week after securing Drogheda’s Premier Division status with only his second goal of the entire season.
Having played primarily as a right-back, O’Connor was switched to midfield for the play-off matches and missed a hatful of chances, but his bad luck changed for the better when it mattered most.
Reliving the moment he became a hero, O’Connor told the Drogheda Independent: ‘I actually did think that I would score. I said that to Andy Myler before the game, and then I said it again to Don Tierney.
‘I was making good runs last week and getting into good positions, and so I was confident of making one count.
‘Without a doubt, that’s the best moment of my career. I am over the moon, absolutely thrilled.
‘Even at the start of the season, people were not giving us a chance. They were saying we were favourites to go down.
‘We were confident going into the game on Saturday. The manager told us to be positive and not to panic or rush into things.
‘The crowd were absolutely brilliant from the word go, and it’s great that we’ll be in the Premier Division next season.
‘I’m really looking forward to playing, and renegotiating my contract!’
Drogheda went with a 3-4-3 formation, with the rarely used Padraig Gollogley sharing defensive duties with Aidan Lynch and Steven Gray, and Shaun Gallagher and Mark Quinless pushed forward to support Declan O’Brien. However, the team’s chances looked anything but rosy after the first 20 minutes, during which they had only managed one shot worthy of note.
O’Brien volleyed wide of the target in the first minute after two Galway defenders jumped for the same ball, but the best effort came soon after from Gary Cronin whose well-struck shot forced Galway keeper Robert Forde into a decent save.
Galway barely ventured out of their own half in the first 20 minutes, but they should have killed off the tie mid-way through the half when their young striker Alan Murphy broke away from Gollogley but then completely mis-kicked, with only goalkeeper Gary Rogers to beat.
A minute later O’Brien set up a chance for O’Connor, whose hurried effort failed to trouble Forde, and then Gray fired a disappointing free kick straight into the Galway wall.
The main stand at O2 Park erupted momentarily when O’Connor’s 20-yard shot appeared to hit the target, but in fact it had struck the side netting. More frustration followed as O’Connor and Mark Dempsey wasted free kick opportunities from just outside the Galway box, while O’Brien snatched at a half-chance and didn’t connect properly with the ball.
Galway were well organised in defence, with the balding Fran Carter seemingly in total command. However, Drogheda increased the tempo just before half time and Gallagher’s shot through a crowd of players was saved by Forde, who then watched as the ensuing melée ended with Quinless firing over.
Moments later, O’Connor lashed a superb shot off the crossbar, and this seemed to spur Galway into action – as they had three decent chances in first-half injury time.
Tony Folan, chief tormentor in the first leg at Terryland Park, broke clear and curled a shot just over the bar. Then Derek O’Brien saw his effort blocked by Aidan Lynch, before Gray stepped in to deflect 19-year-old Barry Moran’s attempt away from goal.
Drogheda continued to have the territorial advantage in the second half, but the best chances fell to Galway. When O’Connor lost possession in midfield, Murphy broke away but was forced wide and couldn’t hit the target.
Two minutes later an easier chance fell to Derek O’Brien after being set up by Mike Harty, but Rogers stood tall and held his shot comfortably.
With Gallagher running out of steam, Andy Myler was brought on in the 59th minute, and he had an immediate impact.
Lynch’s pass from the centre circle picked out Quinless, who ran at the Galway defence before slipping the ball to O’Brien. He showed nifty footwork to dribble into the box, where he was tripped by Carter.
The referee rightly awarded a penalty, and Myler took only two steps as he comprehensively beat Forde from the spot.
Eight minutes later the home supporters were jubilant as O’Brien brought the tie level on aggregate. Myler’s initial surge towards the byeline was halted, but O’Connor was on to the loose ball in a flash and he knocked in an inviting left-foot cross. O’Brien got between two Galway defenders and sent a superb header to the net from six yards.
Folan and Colin Fortune were both guilty of very poor free kicks as Galway seemingly began to tire, and Gray headed wide from Tierney’s cross as Drogheda pushed for a winner.
More drama followed as Harry McCue’s team had strong claims for a second penalty waved away when Galway left-back Mike Quirke clearly handled. Quinless then had a shot blocked in an increasingly crowded Galway goalmouth.
Drogheda had a heart-stopping moment in the 89th minute when Galway substitute Dave Goldbey cracked a rebound high into the net after Rogers had saved brilliantly from Murphy, only to have the goal ruled out for offside.
In injury time Drogheda had O’Brien booked after he went down in the box claiming for another penalty.
Galway picked themselves up in extra time and were eventually awarded their first corner of the match on 101 minutes. They failed to make that opportunity count, but the match appeared to swing decisively in their favour when Derek O’Brien was tackled from behind by Quinless, who received a straight red card when surely a yellow would have sufficed.
A minute later Galway captain Mark Herrick headed to the net from Folan’s free kick, but once again the celebrations were cut short by the linesman’s flag.
Down to 10 men and with flu victim Myler in particular using up the last reserves of energy, it looked a tall order for Drogheda, despite that let-off. But on 105 minutes they somehow nosed themselves ahead on aggregate for the first time. Dempsey’s cross was headed back across goal by Myler and O’Connor rose highest to head home from six yards.
With 15 minutes to hang on, Drogheda were inevitably pegged back in the closing stages, with O’Brien switched to playing as an extra defender. Folan had one excellent shot which was parried by Rogers, and fittingly it was captain Lynch who was quickest to the rebound and managed to boot the ball to safety.
DROGHEDA UNITED – Rogers 7, Gollogley 8, Gray 7, Lynch 8, O’Connor 8, Cronin 7, Tierney 7, Gallagher 7 (Myler 59, 9), O’Brien 8, Quinless 7, Dempsey 7. Subs not used: Connor, Quinn, Smith, Lowney.
GALWAY UNITED – R Forde 7, Harty 7, Quirke 7, Carter 8, Keady 7, Fortune 7 (Brennan 85), Folan 6, Herrick 7, Moran 6 (Goldbey 68, 6), Murphy 7, O’Brien 7. Subs not used: Sheridan, A Forde, Papetti.
Referee – Alan Kelly (Cork) 7.
First leg matchfacts:
Galway United 2 (Folan 18, Moran 30) Drogheda United 0
GALWAY UNITED – R Forde 7, Harty 7, Quirke 7, Carter 7, Keady 7, Fortune 7, Folan 9, Herrick 7, Moran 8 (Goldbey 89min), Murphy 8, O’Brien 8. Subs not used: A Forde, Brennan, Sheridan, O’Donnell.
DROGHEDA UNITED – Rogers 7, Dunne 6, Gray 6, Lynch 7, O’Connor 7, Cronin 6, Tierney 6, Gallagher 7 (Quinless 46, 6), O’Brien 6, Myler 6 (Quinn 78, 5), Dempsey 6.
Referee – Dave McKeon (Dublin) 7.
Goal attempts: Galway 10 Drogheda 10; Corners: Galway 7 Drogheda 6; Fouls: Galway 16 Drogheda 12; Offsides: Galway 2 Drogheda 1.
Booked: O’Brien, R Forde (Galway); Gray (Drogheda).
Attendance: 3,500 (est).