AT half-time in last night’s First Division finale, the decision to leave the trophy in the car of an FAI official positioned between the two key venues was beginning to look like a risk.
Leaders Drogheda were huffing and puffing in their attempts to break down Cabinteely at Stradbrook, even though a red card for home defender Jonathan Carlin had simplified their task.
Yet they were nervous in the opening 45, with Tim Clancy urging his players to be calm as they made uncharacteristic mistakes. Nerves were clearly a factor.
Down the road in Athlone, Bray Wanderers were top of the ‘as it stands’ table courtesy of a Ryan
Graydon free-kick which proved to be the only goal of that game.
The trophy was in Enfield at the beginning of the respective second halves when Clancy’s Drogs stepped it up a gear to score the goals that sealed a top-flight return, a sweet moment for the manager after successive play-off disappointments.
James Brown’s solo effort, his first for the club, broke the deadlock before Luke Heeney swooped on the other side of the hour mark to remove suspense from the proceedings and prompt jubilant celebrations at full-time – before the arrival of the silverware.
Their opponents ended the night on a high too. Cabinteely looked set to drop out of the play-off places and Kevin Knight was distraught when his late penalty was saved by David Odumosu, a last chance for the hosts to keep alive their hopes of a point.
But Pat Devlin’s team held on to their play-off place after Galway gave away the lead before having to nab a late equaliser in a 2-2 draw with UCD and Cobh Ramblers failed to break down Shamrock Rovers II in St Colman’s Park. Both teams had opportunities to overtake Cabinteely.
However, there could still be another twist as an morning arbitration appeal this morning will rule on the FAI decision to punish Wexford for fielding an ineligible player in four games – including a match with Cabinteely that finished in a draw.
Awarding Wexford’s opponents a 3-0 win in all of those matches gave Cabinteely an extra two points that keeps them ahead of Galway.
Devlin will travel to face his former club Bray in a play-off if the original decision stands, with Longford away to UCD in the other semi-final this coming Saturday.
The two winners of those ties will play off for the right to meet the second from bottom Premier team in the decider.
After last season ended with another painful defeat to Finn Harps in the decider, Clancy and Drogheda can watch it all unfold from afar, safe in the knowledge that they will be dining at the top table next term.