Unbeaten Cappamore Celtic extended their perfect start to the season with a victory over fellow Division 1B promotion hopefuls Athlunkard Villa.
Four consecutive victories, in which they scored 17 goals, installed table-topping Cappamore as strong favourites prior to kick-off, but an opening half-hour in which Athlunkard were dominant suggested that the form book might be upturned.
Darren Roche’s 10th minute ball over the top of the visiting defence, that striker Donal O’Keeffe skied from a narrow angle, was a harbinger of the imminent opener, as the Cappamore back-line struggled to counter the direct approach.
Christian Kerley, who top scored for Athlunkard B’s Division 3B winning side last season, should have been the main benefactor of this opposition weakness, were it not for the intelligent performance of Cappamore’s right-sided centre-back Adrian O’Dwyer on the cover.
Kerley constantly positioned himself on the shoulder of right-back Joe Shanahan, but O’Dwyer repeatedly denied him any joy.
Joy arrived for the hosts regardless however, mere moments after that earlier O’Keeffe chance, when the Cappamore back-line attempted – and failed – to play the striker offside in response to right-back Seamus Finucane’s long ball. O’Keeffe, who was left all alone, duly turned and slotted the ball gratefully past goalkeeper Kevin O’Connor.
Incredibly, a generous Athlunkard defence twice contrived to almost hand parity to their visitors in the ensuing four minutes. First, centre-back Alan Colbert kicked air, and was rescued by goalkeeper Andrew Kerley rushing out to smother Sean O’Connor’s resultant effort.
Then, an inswinging cross from Rob McLoughlin, by far Cappamore’s biggest threat in open play, was allowed to make its way to the back post, where a waiting Colin Ryan should have scored, but instead shot straight at Kerley.
Midway through the half, Athlunkard constructed the game’s most impressive passage of play, when a fantastic team move culminated in a pitch-perfect cross from an overlapping Peter Reilly, that O’Keeffe headed onto the top of the bar.
Then, on the half-hour mark, the momentum shifted in the league leaders’ favour. Coming short for the first time, Christian Kerley conceded possession with left-back Reilly caught up the field, resulting in a Cappamore free-kick. Right-sided midfielder Andy Murphy impressively slammed the dead ball home off the inside of the far post to set Celtic on their way.
The individual errors began to mount for the suddenly beleaguered hosts. Either side of half-time, goalkeeper Kerley offered up two glorious chances to Cappamore striker Eric Conroy. The first, the result of an ill-advised attempt to play it short under pressure, saw Conroy collect an underhit pass from the goalkeeper and shoot wide.
The second, ten minutes into the second-half, was even more gilt-edged; Conroy poked wide from point-blank range after Kerley spilled another Murphy free-kick.
By this point, Cappamore had surprisingly switched to 4-4-2, facilitated by the half-time introduction of striker Denis Fitzgerald. Rather than prevail upon their new-found numerical midfield advantage to reassert dominance, Athlunkard manager Roy O’Connell instead followed suit, asking Philip Clancy to join Christian Kerley in a two-man front-line.
Unfortunately, in a disastrous five minute period, the game was soon taken out of O’Connell’s grasp by the concession of two extremely soft goals. Colin Ryan tapped in from close range – after Kerley spilled a McLoughlin cross – to put Celtic ahead. And, three minutes later, Conroy rose above two fellow unmarked teammates to convert yet another Murphy free-kick.
Despite switching to 3-5-2 with twenty minutes remaining, O’Connell’s side never really threatened again until the last minute of normal time, when a wonderful channel ball from Roche – who stood out head and shoulders above the rest of the playing cohort, despite featuring on the losing side – was matched by Christian Kerley’s perfectly-timed diagonal run and finish.
Too little, too late however, and Cappamore held on to record their fifth win from five games and reassert themselves as the early frontrunners for the Division 1B title.
O’Keeffe 11′, C. Kerley 90′; Murphy 32′, C. Ryan 60′, Conroy 65′
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