Harps lose epic cup tie on penalties
NEILSTOWN RANGERS ..2 ARR0W HARPS ....2 (After Extra Time) (Neilstown Rangers win 3-2 on Penalties)
ARROW HARPS went out of the FAI Cup, following an epic cup encounter against hosts Neilstown Rangers on Sunday. In the end, a penalty shootout was required to separate two evenly matched teams, who stood toe to toe with each other throughout the 110 minutes of this exciting contest.
The hero for Neilstown proved to be goalkeeper Kevin Kelly who produced two excellent saves in the shoot-out to edge his team through to set-up a seventh-round FAI Junior Cup meeting against Mayo side Castlebar Celtic.
Neilstown Rangers made the early running, as their North-West counterparts took time to find a foothold in the match. On 9 minutes, Neilstown Rangers created their first chance of note which should have resulted in a goal. Gerry Quinn, brother of Sheffield United star Alan Quinn, was played in behind the Harps defence where he rounded the advancing Donal Touhy. However, Touhy forced Quinn an acute an angle to shoot, and Quinn’s pull back into the box was subsequently cleared by Harps defender Paul Brennan.
Arrow Harps then came close to opening the scoring on 16 minutes. Keith McMorrow saw his shot deflect wide following a neat attack from the visitors. McMorrow took the resulting corner which found Francis Quinn who directed his effort just wide of the post. Two minutes later Donal Touhy had to be alert to save comfortably from a Gerry Quinn free kick.
Neilstown Rangers were dominating throughout the half in terms of possession and their style of producing controlled build up play was rewarded on 25 minutes. Neilstown forced a corner, which was swung in from the left by Gerry Quinn. Kevin Murray rose highest in the area to head the ball to the net from close range.
Conceding a goal seemed to have a calming effect among the Arrow Harps players who then settled into the game. Harps began to knock the ball around while utilising the wide areas on the pitch. They closed down the ball and tried to deny Neilstown the space they enjoyed for the opening half hour of the game.
The away side’s pressure paid off on 35 minutes. Harps pushed up the pitch and forced Neilstown to play the ball back into defence. Left back Stephen Heneghan played a back pass, under pressure from Francis Quinn, which was intercepted by Mark Touhy who turned sharply and was subsequently fouled in the area by ‘keeper Kevin Kelly. Johnny Kenny held his nerve following a long delay and smashed the ball to the bottom left corner of the net.
On 42 minutes Noel McKenna came close from a corner, but his headed effort was too high of the mark. With the half closing, disaster struck for Arrow Harps as they went behind again on 44 minutes. Another patient build up from Neilstown resulted in play going down the right side where David Kelly eventually got hold on the ball. Kelly delivered an excellent cross into the back and found David Dempsey who peeled away to the back post. Dempsey produced an excellent controlled header back across goal and into the bottom corner, evading the dive of ‘keeper Donal Touhy. It was a bitter blow for Harps, but half-time soon followed allowing the Riverstown men a chance to regain composure
Arrow Harps sprang out of the blocks in the second half as they surged forward in the early exchanges to find an equaliser. On 48 minutes, Johnny Kenny got on the end of a cross from the left but his 25 yard volley was saved by Kelly in the Neilstown goal. A minute later Keith McMorrow shot wide from a 22 yard free kick, following a foul on winger Francis Quinn. As Harps pushed looking for an equaliser, Neilstown almost killed off their opponents on 50 minutes.
A swift counter attack from the west Dublin outfit, saw the ball make its way to winger John Luby on the left. Luby produced a superb cross which was powerfully met by David Kelly from five yards out. However Harps ‘keeper Donal Touhy somehow managed to produce the save of the match as he clawed the ball away to prevent what everyone thought was a certain goal.
Inspired by Touhy’s save Arrow Harps again swept forward and on 52 minutes they almost found an equaliser. Johnny Kenny received the ball on the left wing before speeding past two defenders and winning a corner. Mark Touhy dispatched the ball into the area where the ball fell to Johnny Kenny. Kenny’s first time shot beat the ‘keeper but Luby cleared off the line to deny the visitors.
The game was being played in an open fashion with Neilstown Rangers seemingly content to sit back and hit on the break, with much of their aerial threat being repelled time and time again by Mick Kenny who seemed to be everywhere in defence for the Harps.
On 55 minutes Keith McMorrow came close as the ball found him from a corner, but McMorrow shot over from 22 yards. Two minutes later another Neilstown attack resulted in the ball finding its way to winger Luby who shot over from a tight angle, when he probably should have pulled the ball back to a colleague.
On 76 minutes Arrow Harps deservedly found the equaliser they had craved for so long. Francis Quinn delivered a sublime cross from a corner kick, which found the leaping Mick Kenny who powerfully headed into the top corner giving Neilstown ‘keeper Kelly absolutely no chance. Neilstown pressed to try and find a winner but had to wait until the last minute to create a clear cut chance.
A corner gave Luby the opportunity to produce another cross which Wayne Byrne headed towards goal. However Johnny Kenny cleared the effort and the game went into extra time.
With both teams looking jaded and heavy footed from their normal time exploits neither side really produced much in the way of goal scoring opportunities. Neilstown revered to continual long balls which were easily mopped up by Mick Kenny. And so following two periods of extra time the game went to a penalty shoot-out.
Arrow Harps were first up with Johnny Kenny stepping forward. However Kenny saw his shot saved wonderfully by Neilstown ‘keeper Kelly. Gerry Quinn strode forward for Neilstown and converted his chance. Alan Henry was next up for Harps, and his effort went wide of the mark giving the visitors an uphill task. Luby was next for the home side and he confidently dispatched his effort. Keith McMorrow got Arrow Harps off the mark in the shootout before Neilstown defender Wayne Byrne stepped up to miss his effort leaving the score at 2-1 in favour of the hosts. Harps substitute Ciaran Garry then converted his kick to put the pressure back on Neilstown. But Mark Dorlington made no mistake for the home side and when Kevin Kelly produced another wonderful save from Noel McKenna’s spot kick, the home crowd erupted into victorious celebration, with Kelly being crowded beneath players and supporters alike.
This was a wonderful cup tie that saw excellent football being played on an excellent surface. While the home side might have felt they were comfortable throughout the match, they could not match the determination and spirit of Sligo’s last representatives in the competition. Harps showed true grit when bouncing back twice to find equalisers and were unlucky to become undone through the lottery that is a penalty shootout. Arrow Harps can be proud of their performance and they were rightly applauded off the pitch by the large travelling support.
Neilstown Rangers: Kevin Kelly, Kenneth Floyd, Stephen Heneghan, Alan Byrne, Wayne Byrne, Keith Murray, Gerry Quinn, Stephen Byrne (Mark Dorlington), David Dempsey, Jon Luby.
Arrow Harps: Donal Touhy, Paul Brennan, Conor Mullen (Ciaran Garry), Sean Potter, Mick Kenny, Johnny Burke, Johnny Kenny, Keith McMorrow, Mark Touhy (Alan Henry), Noel McKenna, Francis Quinn.
Subs not used: Joe Quinn, Colin Harte, Brendan Deignan, Vincent Boyd.