Kilkeel II 2 Cookstown II 3
NINE man Cookstown forged their way into the semi-finals of the Irish Junior Cup with an energetic and wholehearted display against an experienced Kilkeel.
After a 6-0 drumming of North Down and a close 2-1 victory in Donegal in the earlier rounds, the Reds came into this game on the back of a very disappointing 1-1 draw with NICS.
Earlier in the season an experienced Twos side had made the long trip to the south-east corner of Down only to come away with a hard fought draw. This time the young team, buoyed by Captain Butler’s brainteasers, had an even more daunting undertaking in the Cup quarter.
But they could not have got off to a better start. Straight from the whistle Black surged forward, riding a number of stick tackles before slipping the ball to Butler who smashed it into the bottom corner with only thirty seconds on the clock. Unfortunately it proved to be the stand-in-captain’s last meaningful involvement of the day as he left the field through injury just minutes later.
A reorganised Cookstown worked extremely hard without the ball, closing down Kilkeel and keeping them pinned down in their own half. Their desire to stand up to the physicality of the Mourne men saw them draw the attention of the umpires, with Black especially coming under the officials’ scrutiny.
In a blink on an eye the Reds found themselves back on level pegging with Kilkeel. A long ball left the defence back-peddling and somehow Rodgers wandered into the circle unseen and converted at the back post.
The Reds came out of the traps at top speed in the second half and some lovely enterprise led by Nelson (complete with new teeth), Ferguson, Allen and Watt saw them create a number of good chances, but the Kilkeel goalkeeper proved equal to the Cookstown challenge.
The first half indiscipline came back to bite the Reds when Black was shown a yellow card for a stick tackle. Kilkeel took advantage and forced a number of short corners. The returning Thom made two top class stops to keep the game on a knife edge
A break from Wilson allowed Allen to put Watt in on goal, but yet another save from the Kilkeel keeper gave the Mourne men the opportunity to break. A slick pass looked to have beaten Hagan. However, he somehow managed to get his stick in the way, illegally according to the umpire, and the veteran defender joined Black on the sidelines.
Playing against nine men seemed to confuse Kilkeel and they contrived to waste the opportunity with the awesome Stevie Allen taking full advantage of Nelson’s imperious efforts and smashing home a marvellous goal to make it 2-1.
Black returned to the field and promptly set up a third goal, working the ball to Wilson, now playing in midfield with McWhirter and Allen departing injured. He fired the ball in on goal only for the keeper to knock it into the air. Omagh import Andy Smith was bravest and volleyed the ball over the line for his first goal for the Twos.
And boy was it important. Despite finding themselves down to ten, Kilkeel poured forward and with only seconds remaining Hutchinson converted a scrappy goal after two good stops by Thom.
Nevertheless, the Reds held on and will now meet last year’s beaten finalists, Banbridge II, in the IJC semi-final. In the other fixture Corinthians will take on the current champions Lisnagarvey.
Cookstown: Ali Thom, Ian Hagan, Mark Wilson, Dan Crooks, Andy McWhirter, Andy Ferguson, Gavin Butler (c), Dicky Nelson, Paul Watt, Stevie Allen, Graeme Black, Tony Johnston, Andy Smith
Miller, Shearer and Black Man of the Match: Mark Wilson
Many thanks to Ian Cheevers for his fantastic management from the sidelines