Coonagh United ended Croom United’s nine-match winning streak to move within two points of the Division 2A leaders.
Faced with the visit of an unbeaten Croom side, that also pocketed the cup scalps of Division 1A’s Charleville and Caherdavin earlier this season, may have seemed like a tall order for second-placed Coonagh, but the hosts may have been heartened by the raft of visiting first-team absentees.
Goalkeeper Aaron Burke missed out due to an ankle problem, and was joined on the injury list by starting centre-backs Shane Mulready and Barry Kirby, and influential central midfielder Aiden Morrissey.
Coonagh, for their part, handed the lone striker role to teenage sensation Billy Connors, who has lit up Division 3B as its top goalscorer this season, despite toiling up front for eighth-placed Coonagh B. Eoin Martin filled the holding role in a 4-1-4-1, demonstrating that the Coonagh management were keenly aware of the challenge that lay ahead.
The hosts’ main plan of attack consisted of feeding Connors with channel-balls, and that strategy could and should have produced two goals in the opening ten minutes.
Burke’s replacement in the Croom goal, Nerijus Bumbulis, made a strong third-minute save from Connors, after the striker was released down the inside-right. Minutes later, Connors should have finished with his left-foot, when he reacted ahead of Croom’s stand-in centre-backs to a lofted through-ball from the excellent Gordon McKevitt.
McKevitt was instrumental to Coonagh’s first-half attacking play, as a wide-open Croom midfield struggled to deal with their numerical disadvantage. McKevitt’s partner, Joey Sheehan, who has top scored for Coonagh this season, had an uncharacteristically disappointing outing however, capped by an errant early backpass that played Gary McInerney in to waste a glorious clear-cut chance.
Strangely, Croom opted to field midfielder Jamie Lynch up front this morning, with McInerney shifted to the left flank, but their top marksman’s off the ball movement still presented him with several presentable opportunities that should have been snaffled.
The tendency of powerful former St. Patricks’ striker David Buston to drop in between the lines and thread through-balls to his left-winger twice led to first-half sitters that McInerney failed to convert.
At the other end, an ascendant Coonagh continued to create chances for Connors, who proved equally wasteful when presented with an open goal on the half-hour mark, after miscommunication between Bumbulis and the otherwise solid Nathan Kirrane.
McKevitt continued to have a hand in everything positive from the hosts, including an inswinging corner-kick that resulted in two consecutive clearances off the line from a desperate Croom rearguard. The central midfielder also blazed over a great chance from the area’s edge on the stroke of half-time, after a wonderful turn and cross from right-winger Eoin O’Neill.
Coonagh responded to McInerney’s regular forays in behind by switching Martin to right-back at half-time, with Peter Hodnett introduced from the bench in the holding role, and Martin’s impact in his new position was immediate; first executing a crucial sliding block to deny Conor Laffan’s effort, and then playing the simple ball over the top that McKevitt snaffled with a left-footed finish to cap a marvelous individual performance.
By that point, the game was looking pretty stretched, with many of Croom’s makeshift eleven unable or unwilling to track back in the defensive phase. Now trailing, their cause wasn’t helped when panic on the sideline prompted a whole host of positional changes, including Buston to centre-back, Kirrane to left-back, Barry Roche to left-wing, and McInerney joining Conor Laffan up top.
The organisational mayhem this reshuffle engendered saw Coonagh beat the offside trap – such as it was – twice in quick succession, with Connors and Ian Considine missing gilt-edged chances to put the game to bed.
They needn’t have worried however, as substitute Kevin Laffan, plying his trade on the right of midfield, earned his marching orders for a reckless challenge with six minutes remaining.
An incensed Conor, formerly of Aisling Annacotty, was also summarily hooked by Croom management lest he join his namesake on the sideline, as referee Andrew Keogh made it clear he wasn’t going to allow Croom’s frustration to light the game’s touch paper.
Coonagh wrapped up a victory that the likes of Shelbourne, Moyross United B, and Nenagh B won’t be happy to hear about, when Connors finally netted one late on, dispossessing centre-back John Quirke after an ill-advised square pass from Kirrane. His side now sit two points behind Croom at the season’s mid-way point.
McKevitt 63′, Connors 88′
Man of the Match