Carrick Rovers brave bid to be crowned MDL Premier Division champions came to an end at a resplendent
Coming in to the game on the back of a club record of 8 straight league wins which saw them end the season joint top of the league with Rock, the Monaghan side approached the tie in confident mood but Rock Celtics experience at the business end of the season proved to be a major factor in the outcome of the game as for Rovers young side it was a game in which the size of the occasion seemed to have a negative effect on a number of their players who did not reach the level of performance needed on the day.
A huge travelling support on a glorious sunny day set the scene as both sides were led on to the pitch for a half six kick off. Boasting a number of players who have played at League of Ireland level, including former Dundalk striker David Ward and David Hoey, an FAI Cup winner, Rock started the game as if with a point to prove as Rovers seemed to let the occasion get to them as they afforded their opponents far too much time and space on the ball. A physically much bigger team Rock started with 3 up front and their tactic of bypassing midfield and using the excellent delivery from their goalkeeper Danny Woods to target their forwards saw Rovers dropping far too deep as Rock created a number of good chances in the opening period which saw keeper Clint Marron called into action on a too many occasions for Rovers liking. This tactic also forced Rovers into playing the long ball as their full backs were unable to take the ball off Marron and build from the back and this also played into the Louth sides hands as their bigger side won much of the ariel ball and were well on top in the possession stakes.
20 mins in and the pressure finally told when David Ward was in the right place at the right time to react quickest to Marrons good save from a shot from 10 yds from Brian Kilboy and he forced the rebound over the line from 3 yds.
This however seemed to serve as the wake up call that Rovers were in desperate need of as they responded well to the set back and began to push forward for the first time in the game. A rasping shot from Barry Woods from 25 yds almost had Rovers back on level terms but keeper Woods in the Rock goal pulled off a stunning full length diving save to deny the Carrick man. Gerard McGeown was next to try his luck for Carrick but his long range effort failed to trouble the keeper. Rovers looked as if they were coming back into the game after that early Rock onslaught but with just a few minutes to the interval they were left with a mountain to climb when Rock extended their advantage courtesy of another goal from Ward who latched onto a tremendous through ball from fellow striker Paddy Quinn and clipped the ball over the advancing Rovers keeper to leave the Blackrock outfit 2 goals to the good at the interval.
Rovers came out the second half with more purpose about their play and trid hard to give themselves a route back into the game. Woods in the Rock goal made another fantastic stop from his namesake in the Rovers side in the 52nd min and Brendan Kerley had a good claim for a penalty turned down shortly afterwards when clipped as he went to shoot with only the keeper to beat. A visibly tiring Rock side were now the team under pressure and Rovers got their just rewards on the hour mark. A quick drag back from Brendan Kerley in the penalty area deceived Rock centre half Chris Ward who clearly brought the Rovers front man down. The penalty was awarded by referee Paul McLaughlin, who had an excellent game throughout, Wayne Kerley stepped up to the mark to and his cool penalty sent Woods the wrong way to halve the deficit and give Rovers a lifeline.
Rovers almost restored parity on the scoreboard in the 66th min when Gerard Connolly agonisingly missed Barry Woods ball at the back post. It was anyones game at this stage with Rovers looking as if they might pull off a miraculous comeback but this all changed in the 80th min when Rocks Jamie Lally went to ground in the Rovers penalty area after a challenge from Niall Babington, and with the refs whistle indicating another penalty Ward stepped up to claim his hat-trick and restore Rocks 2 goal advantage. 2 mins later and Rovers were down to 10 men with Gerard McGeown receiving a straight red card for an off the ball incident involving Chris Connolly and this marked the end of Rovers brave challenge as Rock held out to the end to claim their second title in a row. MDL secretary Gerry Gorman presented the trophy to a gracious Rock captain David McGeough who was full of praise for the Monaghan side and Rovers would like to congratulate Shane Reddish and his team on their excellent achievement in winning back to back titles.
Whilst a disappointing result to end the season Rovers young side can take great encouragement from a very good league campaign and use this experience to build for next season.
A special word of thanks and appreciation to the hundreds of supporters who travelled from the Carrickmacross area to support the team on Sunday.
Carrick Rovers: Clint Marron, Padraig Gollogly (Peter Maxwell 60), Martin McDermott, Niall Babington, Ger Connolly, Gary McEneaney (Brian Marron 56),Wayne Kerley, Barry Woods, Eamonn Lynch (Gavin McMahon 88), Brendan Kerley, Gerard McGeown.
Subs not used – Barry McNally, Gary McCarthy