Saturday 20 April 2019

Harps needing a favour after agonising loss

Boyne Harps 0 Muirhevnamor 1

Marcus Cavaroli

The wildly contrasting emotions of the two teams at full-time last Thursday night would suggest that it's advantage Muirhevnamor in the battle to become NEFL Premier Division champions.

Boyne Harps, needing just a draw at United Park to clinch the silverware, were edged out by their title rivals who will win the League trophy if they collect all three points from their final fixture away to Trim Celtic.

Muirhevnamor's victory was well deserved on the balance of play, but there was high drama in stoppage time when sub Carl Dowling had a glorious chance to secure the Premier crown for Harps. However, he steered his shot over the bar from point-blank range and Harps must now rely on Trim Celtic to do them a favour in two weeks' time.

The league leaders were looking to complete a perfect league campaign of eight wins from eight, but without top strikers Guy Bates and William Woods they looked a little bit lightweight up front.

By contrast, Muirhevnamor - who are unbeaten in the league since September 2017 - had the luxury of playing Billy Smith on the left wing as Martin Smith and Tiarnan Mulvenna led their frontline.

Harps, playing their first competitive game in four weeks, were tentative from the start as they set up with two midfielders sitting in front of the back four.

There was more energy and attacking intent about the Dundalk side and Jason Lowney was the first of the two keepers to be called on as he clawed away a deflected Billy Smith effort from under the bar. Muirhevnamor then created the one clear opening of the first half on 15 minutes when Jimmy Cooney spotted left-back Nathan Murphy's run in behind Harps right-back Kevin Walsh and the former Dundalk player's inch-perfect cross picked out Martin Smith. The big striker took the ball down nicely but then lost his composure and blasted over the bar.

The remainder of the half was uninspiring as the sides cancelled each other out. Muirhevnamor struggled to punch holes in a Harps back four which was superbly marshalled by Manny Smith, while the Dundalk side's keeper Michael Cooney remained untested. The Drogheda side did establish a foothold in the game in the second quarter but only managed one shot at goal, a Martin Kelly effort which was blocked.

Thankfully the entertainment level went up several notches after the interval and Lowney made a brave save at the feet of Gary Clarke after he had linked up with Mickey O'Kane. At the other end, Danny Coyle was guilty of a glaring miss on 58 minutes as he made a late run into the box to meet a Stephen Carter corner and somehow steered the ball inches wide as the entire Muirhevnamor defence stood rooted to the spot.

Kelly then did well to collect Manny Smith's long clearance and for a moment it was two against two, but Kelly's attempted pass towards the on-rushing Nathan Seery was cut out by a defender.

Cody Magill's earlier introduction in place of Martin Smith had allowed O'Kane move into the '10' position for Muirhevnamor and the substitute teed up O'Kane for a shot that smacked off the crossbar in the 62nd minute.

The Dundalk side were on top now and they finally made it count on the 73-minute mark. Mulvenna passed up a chance to pump the ball into the box, a decision that had the management team in the dugout bellowing instructions to 'put it in', and almost instantaneously Jimmy Cooney did just that from mid-way inside the Harps half of the field, picking out O'Kane who nodded past Lowney from eight yards.

Harps immediately made two changes, but centre-halves Cooney and Robbie Gavigan remained rock-solid for the away side and two minutes into stoppage time Lowney needlessly got himself sent off after an off-the-ball skirmish involving Colin Finan.

That wasn't the end of the drama, though. Moments later the ball was pumped deep into the visitors' half towards Harps skipper James Traynor and he dinked a superb diagonal pass to the back post where Dowling directed his close-range volley onto the roof of the net. A few centimetres lower and the Drogheda side would have been champions!

BOYNE HARPS: Jason Lowney; Kevin Walsh, Manny Smith, Luke McDonnell, James Traynor; Graham Reynolds, Darren McCann, Nathan Seery (Jack Boylan (90 +2), Danny Coyle, Stephen Carter (Bernard Osborne 74); Martin Kelly (Carl Dowling 77). Subs not used: Mick Leech, Mickey Matthews, Conor Tully, Colin Rafferty.

MUIRHEVNAMOR: Michael Cooney, Brian Begley, Robbie Gavigan, Jimmy Cooney, Nathan Murphy; Gary Clarke (Brendan Hughes 67), Mickey O'Kane, Philip Duffy, Billy Smith (Colin Finan 90); Martin Smith (Cody Magill 54), Tiarnan Mulvenna. Subs not used: Adrian Rafferty, Niall Heatley, Vinny Smith, Thomas McShane.

Referee: Conor Byrne.

Drogheda Independent