Fairview Rangers squeaked into the third round of the FAI Junior Cup thanks to an undetected handball that denied fellow LDL Premier Division side Nenagh a well-merited insurance goal.
Despite the absence of former League of Ireland midfielder James McGrath, Nenagh leveraged their one-man advantage in that area of the pitch to great effect in the first-half.
Although dominant in possession, with both Thomas Sheppard and striker Tommy Heffernan coming short to link up play effectively, omitting the guile of Daniel Butler and Alex Gardas from the starting lineup translated to scant chance-creation for the Tipperary side.
When the hosts managed to retrieve the football, a dreadfully static front four – paired with the dual absences of top scorers George Daffy and Cian O’Donoghue – rendered Paul O’Donnell’s side equally ineffectual.
Fairview’s two big chances of the half stemmed instead from the determined pressing of strikers David Hannon and Christy Doyle, who both took a turn in ensuring that Nenagh centre-back Cathal Coonan’s return from suspension was not a comfortable one.
Luckily for the visitors, with only goalkeeper Aaron Savage to beat, Dean McNamara hit the crossbar to spurn the first chance, and Hannon struck the second golden opportunity wide.
Losing left-back Dylan Walsh before half-time and asking holding midfielder Stevie Daly to deputise did not cause Nenagh to lose momentum, and they continued to outplay their hosts in the early minutes of the second-half.
Walsh’s departure also produced the knock-on effect of Gardas’ introduction on the right of midfield, and it was from the Moldovan midfielder’s 54th-minute corner-kick that Nenagh opened the scoring.
Having connected with Ryan Gilmartin’s poorly-cleared corner-kick seconds earlier, Gardas swung in the delivery that his blocked effort had earned. Once again, the hosts failed to eject the ball from their penalty area, and Sheppard guided the loose ball into the far corner of Peter Healy’s goal to cap an excellent individual performance.
This blow kick-started Fairview, with Darragh Rainsford’s dribbling ability posing regular problems for another suspension returnee Bryan McGee. On the hour-mark, Rainsford skinned the right-back on the outside and delivered a left-footed cross that Coonan could only half-clear.
Hannon pounced quickly on the loose ball to fire it goalward, but Daly – who performed two roles admirably on only his second start of the season – repelled it dramatically from the goal-line.
Then, after a ten-minute lull in which extra-time looked inevitable, Nenagh were cruelly robbed of a potentially decisive second goal by the illegal intervention of John Mullane.
Having worked the ball through Sheppard for the umpteenth second-half occasion, a left-wing cross broke favourably to Gardas at the back post. The winger’s resultant effort looked destined for the far corner, but struck Mullane’s hand instead and bounced clear. Neither referee Andrew Keogh, nor his assistant George Clancy, detected the offence.
Spared a red card and the concession of a penalty-kick, Fairview then predictably equalised minutes later. There was nothing predictable about the manner of the goal however, as assistant manager Trevor Cosgrave arrived off the bench to slam home a sensational, unsaveable, 35-yarder.
With the game now irreparably stretched, as the insane LDL Premier Division schedule began to take its toll on tired legs, both sides crafted – and wasted – a glorious chance apiece in quick succession.
Rainsford’s left-footed effort was blocked by Savage at the back post, before Heffernan prevailed upon Mullane’s missed interception to alight upon Gardas’ perfect through-ball and loft it weakly into Healy’s grateful hands.
Healy, who appeared to soldier on through a painful shoulder injury, then produced the save of the game, when he leaped to repel Mark McKenna’s stunning 40-yard scorcher that looked bound for the goalkeeper’s top right-hand corner.
Then, in a cruel twist of injury-time fate, Nenagh’s FAI Junior Cup status fell cruelly victim to the same offence that the officials had earlier failed to detect in their favour.
Heaping irony on to irony, it was Mullane’s deflected back-heel, after a poorly-cleared corner-kick, that midfielder Roy Creagh saved on the goal-line. Rainsford duly slotted away the resultant 12-yarder to complete the injustice and ensure his side’s fortunate passage to the third round of the competition.
Cosgrave 76′, Rainsford (pen) 90+3′; Sheppard 54′