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Joy for Ashford in cup final after battle with Rathnew

Greene grabs the winner to send Rovers wild with delight

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The victorious Ashford youths team after their U19 Cup final win over Rathnew at Finlay Park.

The victorious Ashford youths team after their U19 Cup final win over Rathnew at Finlay Park.

Liam Kilbride of the WDSL presents Ashford captain Luke Fitzpatrick with the cup.

Liam Kilbride of the WDSL presents Ashford captain Luke Fitzpatrick with the cup.

John Shea of the WDFL presents Sam Greene with the man of the match award.

John Shea of the WDFL presents Sam Greene with the man of the match award.

Ashford players celebrate after their victory over Rathnew.

Ashford players celebrate after their victory over Rathnew.

Lee and Luke Fitzpatrick with the U17/18 Cup in Finlay Park.

Lee and Luke Fitzpatrick with the U17/18 Cup in Finlay Park.

Ashford captain Luke Fitzpatrick lifts the U17/18 cup high.

Ashford captain Luke Fitzpatrick lifts the U17/18 cup high.

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The victorious Ashford youths team after their U19 Cup final win over Rathnew at Finlay Park.

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Ashford Rovers 2

Rathnew 1

FOOTBALL is wonderfully simple sometimes.

It is a game so often defined not by the frivolous minutia that you would see two former professionals pour over in forensic detail in an expensive TV studio.

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At is core, it is a game that is underpinned by qualities of desire, aggression, and workrate.

Ashford’s improbable second-half comeback to beat Rathnew in Friday’s Youth Cup final in Finlay Park was not completed thanks to the adjustment of an indiscernible tactical nuance. Instead, the game was decided based on a theme succinctly summarised by captain Luke Fitzpatrick after the game.

‘Rathnew, I thought you had us at half-time, but you didn’t.’

It was not said with malintent; rather it was an appropriate deduction from a match that could not be summed up any other way.

In the first-half, Rathnew were superb. Adam Byrne was peerless for the first 45; an engine room general who played with energy, fight, and a complimentary mullet to rival that which brought the style back into public consciousness by Offaly wunderkind Cormac Egan.

At the top of the pitch, Josh Merrigan played with unpredictable subterfuge; lingering on the shoulder of the last defender before spinning in behind to chase passes. This strategy saw him nip between two Ashford defenders to get the game’s opening goal.

It may have arrived on the stroke of half-time, but it had been coming. Merrigan had had two shots saved while the best fell to him on 39 minutes when a long clearance set him through one-on-one.

The ball got ever so slightly trapped between his feet and, by the time he dug out a shot, it was well blocked down by Fionn Doyle in the Ashford goal.

The best chances that Ashford could muster predominantly came through Darragh Heffernan. On three occasions, he peeled into the left, and three times he got a shot away, including on one occasion that saw a curling effort tipped away by the outstretched hand of Shay Kearney.

The same boy kept out a second-half stinger from Heffernan with an even better stop.

The goal arrived and at the perfect time for Rathnew. Fittingly, it was crafted by Adam Byrne and finished by Josh Merrigan.

The former’s high, hooked ball probably should have been dealt with, but much like AC Milan’s Kaka did to Man Utd’s Gabriel Heinze and Patrice Evra in 2007, Merrigan poked the ball between the two markers, who collided into one another. He finished with the outside of his left boot to give Rathnew the lead.

Ashford manager David Ryan suggested that his players were told to show more belief in the second-half, and the difference was night and day. They were more intentional in the tackle while the introduction of Ruairi Jenkinson gave them more physicality in the wide areas.

Even before the inevitable equaliser, Rathnew were warned. A clearance from Nick McAllister bounced over Shay Kearney but mercifully wide, while Jenkinson had a shot deflected behind for a corner.

On 58 minutes, Rathnew’s luck ran out, when a defender picked the ball up to give to Kearney for a kick-out. However, after some consultation with the linesman, the decision was handball and a penalty was awarded. McAllister gleefully scored.

The foundations of Ashford’s renaissance were formed right from the back, from whence Marcel Kocajda anchored the back four. Luke Fitzpatrick was sensational in midfield, breaking Rathnew’s tempo and providing a platform going forward.

Player of the Match ended up going to Sam Greene who, amidst an oasis of graft and combat, offered twinkle-toed ingenuity.

Seeking to elicit a spark, Adam Byrne was moved higher up the pitch, and while that showed fleeting promise – his mazy run ended with a cross that was narrowly missed by Merrigan – it also left Rathnew mismatched in midfield.

It was from such chaos that Greene opportunistically struck, tucking in off the right and picking up the breaking ball. He twisted and turned before shooting from range, with his shot squirming in.

Rathnew would huff and puff for the remainder of the game, but to no avail. When the final whistle blew, it was Ashford who celebrated, while the Village boys were left wondering what might have been.

Ashford Rovers: Fionn Doyle; Aran Kavanagh, Marcel Kocajda, Alex Powell, James Grant; Glenn Connolly, Luke Fitzpatrick; Sam Greene, Nick McAllister, Allen Jose; Darragh Heffernan. Subs: Cian Ryan for J. Grant (29), Ruairi Jenkinson for A. Jose (HT), Mikey Nolan for R. Jenkinson (80), Sean Ryan for S. Greene (90).

Rathnew AFC: Shay Kearney; Fionn Greene, Callum Clarke, Aaron Nolan, Cillian McAllister; Billy Bannon, Adam Byrne, Ian Kavanagh; Ethan Snell, Josh Merrigan, Lennon Byrne. Subs: Matt Gleeson for B. Bannon (87), Harry Togan for L. Byrne (87), Conor Snell for C. McAllister (87).

Referee: Keith Neville


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