Rangers defeated brave Rathnew 2-1 at Finlay Park
BELIEF was the choice word at half-time as Ashford Rovers sought to come back from 1-0 down to beat Rathnew in the under-18 cup final on Friday night.
In the first half, a ruthless, physically dominant Rathnew side had dominated throughout and taken the lead through Josh Merrigan’s goal on the stroke of the break.
It could have been more, but for some fine goalkeeping from Fionn Doyle and some resolute, stubborn defending at the back end of the pitch.
The second half was a complete reversal of the sides’ respective fortunes, as a bizarre yet welcome Nick McAllister penalty and a Sam Greene fortuitous strike from range turned a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 win.
Speaking to the Wicklow People immediately afterwards, Ashford boss David Ryan paid tribute to the heart and determination of his players, who have now added the cup to a league title at the end of a spectacular season.
He said: “First of all, I think Rathnew were excellent. We were really put to the pin of our collar to get a result and we had to dig deep and fair play to these lads, they dug deep all year, especially in the last two weeks.
“To beat Aughrim down in Aughrim to win the league; having to go down there and beat them in the semi-final, and now, to beat Rathnew – a very, very good Rathnew team – and to come back from one down to win, I am delighted.
“I think it shows great character in our lads.”
Ashford showed that character in spades throughout an inspired second-half performance Marcel Kocajda was magnificent at the heart of their defence, while captain Luke Fitzpatrick was commanding in midfield, freed from the shackles of having to combat the similarly sensational Adam Byrne, who ran the show for Rathnew in the opening period.
As for Sam Greene, he was a worthy recipient of the Player of the Match gong afterwards, offering more ambitious footwork and grounded panache to go up against the aggressive war of attrition that was taking place around him.
Ryan continued: “(We told them to show) just more belief in ourselves. Get it down, play a little bit of football – and we did that – and be patient. Do the right things and we saw that it worked…just about.”
Both of their goals had a touch of luck about them, with the penalty coming after some surreal misunderstanding in the Rathnew defence and the second from a long-range strike that squirmed past the otherwise tremendous Sam Kearney.
However, as the old saying goes, if you don’t buy a ticket, you will never win the raffle. After 90 minutes of blood and sweat, Ashford were spared the tears.