Despite toiling against a decimated Regional United eleven, Fairview Rangers struck late in extra-time to qualify for the first open round of the Munster Junior Cup.
Shorn of six regular starters – including defenders David and Andrew Cowpar, player-manager Brian O’Callaghan, midfielders Mikey Lyons and Shane O’Doherty, and top scorer Olly O’Driscoll – Regional’s chances of reprising September’s 4-2 victory over Paul O’Donnell’s side looked slim.
Those chances looked even slimmer after 10 minutes, when right-wing-back Evan Patterson clipped Jonathan Hannafin’s ankles after allowing the left-back to evade him all too easily on the byline. Darragh Rainsford calmly slotted away the resultant penalty-kick.
That early lead was an entirely merited one for a Fairview side that looked likely every time it furrowed down the left-flank. Regional’s outside-centre-backs were also regularly pressed into errors in the game’s introductory phase, but their visitors’ initial vigor quickly waned, as the host midfield began to make their numerical advantage count.
Up against four Regional midfielders in central areas, often added to by deep off-the-ball runs from target man Stephen Keeley, Fairview holders Craig Madigan and AJ O’Connor were handed a thankless task that threatened to overwhelm them as the half wore on.
Byron Fitzgerald, deputising for O’Driscoll after a recent return to the club, skipped past O’Connor in the 19th minute, before finding Shane Cox’s diagonal run with a delightful chipped reverse pass. Peter Healy did well to save Cox’s resultant left-footed effort, struck under pressure from a recovering Hannafin.
The slowness of Fairview’s wide players to assume their defensive positions at transitions didn’t help matters, nor did a 32nd-minute collective failure to play to the whistle, when left-wing-back Nathan Clancy prevented the ball from running out of play and squared to Keeley, who finished well.
Although his influence declined in the second-half, Keeley’s head-up hold-up play was a delight to watch, and it fashioned one of several efforts that Fairview’s loose midfield permitted their hosts to strike from around the D, when Dylan Frawley’s powerful mid-ranger was held by a fortunate Healy at the second attempt.
A late first-half injury to Brian Murphy afforded Fairview the opportunity to tighten things up in the middle, but Rainsford’s subsequent move infield, facilitated by the right-wing introduction of Christy Hogan, did not aid in the visitors’ poor off-the-ball efforts.
Regional, therefore, continued to look the likeliest side throughout the opening 20 minutes of the second-half; a period capped by the fashioning of a glorious chance for Patterson by some lovely one-touch football on the right-flank.
With Mullane dragged out of position by Keeley, Patterson ran into the gap created, completed a one-two with Fitzgerald, but blazed wide with the goal at his mercy.
Yet, despite their open-play dominance, Regional’s makeshift side were living a charmed life at set-pieces, as Rainsford’s missed sitter demonstrated on the hour-mark. The goalscorer was completely unmarked when he hooked the ball over from eight yards, as was O’Connor, who teed up his team-mate at the back post.
Eventually, with two minutes remaining of extra-time, O’Connor popped up unmarked again to punish Regional’s dead-ball laxity, tapping in from close-range after a left-wing corner-kick was not dealt with at the near post.
Regional suffered a further blow in injury-time, when substitute Colm Hyland received his marching orders for an off-the-ball incident with fellow substitute – and injury-returnee – Brian Fitzgerald.
Keeley 32′; Rainsford 10′ (pen), O’Connor 109′