What a sensational conclusion it was to this year’s Clare Cup final. Newmarket Celtic were vying to win the competition for seven years in a row, standing in the way was Avenue Utd who were fully intent on spoiling the party.
Clare Cup Final A.E.T. Newmarket Celtic 3–2 Avenue Utd
This has been another remarkable season for a Newmarket club that was undefeated in Clare and reached the semi-finals of both the FAI and Munster Junior Cups, losing in both by the tightest of margins. The club celebrated their 50th anniversary year in style with a Clare league and cup double and no doubt they will be aiming even higher again for next season.
They didn’t have it all their own way on the night after Avenue raced into a 2-0 lead before half-time. Colin Smyth threw Newmarket a lifeline in the 72nd minute. When Celtic’s captain Stephen Kelly was sprung from the bench in the 92nd minute still recovering from an ankle ligament injury, his presence lifted the team and led to a late equaliser from Tino Nzvaura.
Referee Mark Rellis got proceedings underway at 7.00pm in Frank Healy Park, Doora. Dylan Casey had the first chance at goal after five minutes but his snap-shop was easily saved by Shane Cusack in the Newmarket Celtic goal. At the other end, Eoin Hayes passed the ball across the face of the Avenue goal for Dave McCarthy but the Celtic captain couldn’t take advantage.
After four minutes David Smyth put Mikey Mahoney through for a one-on-one with goalkeeper Cusack but the centre-forward toe-poked the ball wide. The next chance fell to Eoin O’Brien but he didn’t get the right connection and his effort drifted wide. At this stage there Avenue’s Pa McDaid was issued with a yellow card for a foul as the game was being fought between the two 18-yard lines with both defences supreme.
The game sparked to life in the 37th minute when Seamie Lawlor was booked for a foul on Avenue’s Mark Roche who popped for the resulting free to head the ball to the net for the first goal of the game. Avenue led 1-0. Newmarket countered and Dave McCarthy cross was well gathered in the air by Avenue keeper Barry Ryan.
With 41 minutes on the clock, the Ennis side stunned their opponents. Once again it was that man Roche, this time taking full advantage of some sloppy defending to steal the ball and slip it past Shane Cusack for his second goal. All of a sudden the wind had gone out of Newmarket’s sails as they looked forward to the half-time break behind by two goals and in need of some tactical motivation from their manager.
Liam Murphy certainly didn’t delay ringing in the changes as the team returned with Colin Ryan on for Lawlor to bolster the middle of the park and Daithi O’Connell making way for striker Colin Smyth. The substitutions were to have a positive effect.
The match had only just restarted when Avenue’s Dylan Casey was booked for a foul on Newmarket dangerman Eoin Hayes. As both sides settled in for the new half with Celtic in the ascendancy Patrick Sherlock entered the ref’s notebook for a foul on Darren Cullinan.
Liam Murphy made another change on the hour with Cathal Hayes coming on for Paddy Purcell in defence. In the 70th minute, Shane Cusack dived full length to prevent a third Avenue goal when he pulled off a brilliant save from Kaylyn O’Loughlin.
Cusack’s kick-out made his way to Eoin Hayes at the other end and he had the crowd on their feet with a surging run to win a corner. The ball was floated in and was headed to the back of the net in the 72nd minute by substitute Colin Smyth, all of a sudden it was game on!
Avenue manager Richie O’Grady sent on Ronan Kerin for Alan Roche and Kerin immediately found his way into the referee’s notebook for a foul. After 36 minutes of the second half, there were angry scenes when Newmarket appeals for a penalty for a foul on Eoin O’Brien were dismissed by referee Mark Rellis.
Goalscorer Mark Roche was replaced by Mikey Dinan and three minutes later veteran David Russell came on for his final game in an Avenue shirt in place of Pa McDaid.
Tino Nzvaura tried a clever back-headed flick at goal but Barry Ryan was wise to it. Newmarket kept up the pressure with a 43rd minute cross to the back post but this time Nzvaura’s header was too high.
There was more than a hint of desperation when Newmarket sent on their injured captain Stephen Kelly after two minutes of injury time was played. Kelly went straight in at centre-forward, causing major problems in the Avenue defence and creating the space for Tino Nzvaura to grab a last-minute equaliser.
Normal time ended with the teams on level terms at 2-2. Newmarket kept up the pressure in extra time but there was still stalemate at the end of the first half. Fine minutes into the second period of extra time Jamie Roche was sent off with a straight red for a bad foul on Eoin Hayes. Then just when it looked like the game would go to penalties, Eoin O’Brien headed home the winner with 110 minutes played.
Oliver Fitzpatrick, chairman of the Clare League, presented Dave McCarthy with the cup and Dylan Casey with the man of the match award.