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Sunday 21 July 2019

Ice-cool Albion are spot-on

Wexford Albion 0 St. Joseph's 0 (AET, Albion won 3-2 on penalties)

Alan Aherne in Whitemill

The manner of Wexford Albion's nail-biting final victory in the 48th annual Mini World Cup on their home soil on Sunday shouldn't have come as any surprise.

The hosts triumphed 3-2 on penalties after a tense scoreless stalemate with a battling St. Joseph's (Kilmuckridge) side, and it was written in the stars that this would be the outcome given the path they had taken in the earlier rounds.

Quite incredibly, Albion drew all four of their games in the tournament after extra-time, and went on to forge four successive victories on spot-kicks!

Now that's what you call nerves of steel from this promising Under-11 crew, who were managed by Damien Mallon and Liam O'Neill.

It started with a nil-nil draw with Forth Celtic 'A', one of the pre-competition favourites considering most of their players had featured with their 'B' side which went all the way to the decider last year.

Albion won that opener 3-2 on penalties, and there was a 2-1 success in similar circumstances in the next round after Wexford Celtic held them to a 1-1 draw.

Last Wednesday's semi-final was an equally tight affair, with the confidence gained from those two earlier wins shining through after neither themselves nor Curracloe United could manufacture a goal in playing time.

A 2-1 win on penalties saw them through, and all of that practice was evident once again on Sunday as player of the tournament Darragh Mallon, joint captain Conor Shortall, and finally the ice-cool Reece O'Connor-Farrell netted the spot-kicks that brought the Jack Carthy Memorial Cup back to the club that meant so much to that late icon of schoolboys soccer in Wexford town for the first time since 2015.

It was an eighth title in all for Albion in a competition that has been running without a break since 1971, but they were pushed all the way by St. Joseph's who were seeking to bridge a 42-year gap.

Their name hadn't appeared on the roll of honour since completing back-to-back titles in 1976 and 1977, but they had impressed en route to Sunday's big showdown.

After beating Adamstown 3-2, they defeated holders Glynn Barntown 'A' 3-2 on penalties after a 2-2 draw in the quarter-final, before seeing off Glynn Barntown 'B' - a side composed entirely of Under-10 players - 6-0 in the penultimate round.

A big crowd turned out in sunny, if windy, conditions for a well-contested game that really could have gone either way.

St. Joseph's exerted most of the pressure in the first ten minutes, playing down the slope, but efforts from Brogan Smith and a James Walsh free-kick didn't yield a much sought-after goal.

Albion gradually settled into the task at hand, and Conor Shortall tested netminder Robbie Hammel with a long-range strike in the eleventh minute.

Smith, the tournament's golden boot winner, fired the ball across the face of goal and wide at the other end, but the teams retired without breaking the deadlock after some particularly strong performances from the respective back twos in this seven-a-side competition: Albion joint captains Shortall and Adam Furlong, plus Joseph's duo Rhys Larkin and their on-field leader, J.J. O'Leary.

Shortall fizzed another shot over the bar just 33 seconds into the new half, while player of the tournament Darragh Mallon tracked back into his own box and made a vital tackle just as Saul Loft prepared to pull the trigger for St. Joseph's.

Brogan Smith had a shot from distance saved, and it looked like he would make the breakthrough with eleven minutes left after blocking an attempted clearance by Adam Furlong.

It left him one-on-one with the advancing Conor Byrne, but he was unfortunate to see his powerful shot clearing the bar to Albion's immense relief.

That was the game's big chance before extra-time arrived, and the additional two periods of five minutes apiece didn't produce any clearcut opportunities for either of the tiring teams.

It all boiled down to the dreaded spot-kicks, although the Albion boys seem to be enjoying the tension that they inevitably bring for onlookers at this stage.

Smith scored for St. Joseph's before Mallon equalised, and then Stephen O'Connor was very unlucky to strike the left post for the Kilmuckridge side after giving an excellent midfield display in the game itself.

The advantage was with Albion when Conor Shortall made it 2-1 in their favour and, although James Walsh ensured St. Joseph's still had hope, that was extinguished when Reece O'Connor-Farrell stepped up to become the hero, planting the ball to the left of netminder Robbie Hammel to spark off wild celebrations from the host club.

Thirty teams from 16 different clubs around the county participated in a tournament that is looked forward to with such enthusiasm by players and spectators alike.

As well as the two finalists, there was representation from Glynn Barntown, Curracloe United, Forth Celtic, North End United, Wexford Celtic, All Blacks, Bridge Rovers, New Ross Town, Rosslare Rangers, Rosslare Strand, Wexford Bohemians, St. Leonards, Adamstown and Cushinstown.

Mikey Carthy presented the Jack Carthy Memorial Cup to Albion's joint captains, Adam Furlong and Conor Shortall, with the latter also receiving the fair play award from final referee Ger Morris.

Darragh Mallon was a popular winner of the player of the tournament, while St. Joseph's also featured prominently in the individual accolades as J.J. O'Leary was selected as player of the match, while Brogan Smith went home with the golden boot.

Albion's first success in the tournament was in 1986, and they also triumphed in '89, '95, '01, '10, '13 and '15.

Wexford Albion: Conor Byrne, Adam Furlong (joint capt.), Conor Shortall (joint capt.), Darragh Mallon, Reece O'Connor-Farrell, Rohan O'Leary, Leon Donohue, Rúairí O'Connor, Ryan Messitt, Eoghan McCleane.

St. Joseph's: Robbie Hammel, J.J. O'Leary (capt.), Rhys Larkin, Feidhlim Proctor-Laird, Stephen O'Connor, James Walsh, Brogan Smith, Saul Loft, Kyle O'Leary, Liam O'Loughlin.

Referee: Ger Morris; Assistant Referees: Mark Lett and Jimmy Kelly.

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