Seven days removed from Munster Junior Cup heartbreak, Regional United bounced back in perfect fashion to deny Pike Rovers passage to the sixth round of the country’s marquee amateur football competition.
Desperately unlucky not to best Fairview Rangers on Sunday, despite the absence of six regular starters, Regional player-manager Brian O’Callaghan’s hopes of better fortune against last season’s beaten finalists were raised by the returns of David Cowpar, Shane O’Doherty, and top scorer Olly O’Driscoll.
O’Driscoll resumed duties in one of two number 10 slots behind target man Stephen Keeley, but with O’Doherty confined to the bench – one week after the cessation of his Adare GAA exploits – young Evan Patterson continued at right-wing-back.
Like last week, when left-back Jonathan Hannafin tricked him into conceding the penalty-kick that opened the scoring, Patterson again had his hands full on Regional’s vulnerable right-hand-side.
Eoin Hanrahan and Eddie O’Donovan repeated the overloads that Hannafin and Cian O’Donoghue had inflicted on the hosts seven days ago, and O’Callaghan’s side were fortunate to have three centre-backs on hand to deal with a hatful of byline crosses.
Michael Reidy also found it difficult to contain both full-back and winger on the opposite flank, and one of several needless fouls – committed on attacking right-back Wayne O’Donovan – led to the game’s first big chance, when Paddy O’Malley’s 13th-minute free-kick produced a wasted free header from the otherwise impressive Cian Collins.
Despite struggling to stem the flow down the flanks, Regional did have their moments during their rare forays into the Pike half. Gary Neville’s bizarre decision to punch an unthreatening Shane Cox cross forced Pa Mullins to hastily hook a goalbound Cowpar header off the line.
And Regional management were incensed moments later, when Keeley was cynically brought down by Pa Mullins after a misdirected Eddie O’Donovan header put the striker through on goal. Referee Donal Power took some flak for the decision to award only a yellow card to the Pike centre-back, but the proximities of two other Pike defenders justified the call.
Just after the half-hour mark, Regional’s weakness in wide areas finally told, when Cian Collins held up a Wayne O’Donovan channel-ball on the byline, allowing the returning John Boyle to put a cross on the head of a completely unmarked Hanrahan at the back post.
Hanrahan’s marker Patterson then very nearly redeemed himself, just before the break, with a great run into the box that the international winger – to his credit – tracked. O’Driscoll snaffled the loose ball on the area’s edge, but guided it inches wide of Neville’s right-hand post.
Still smarting from the perceived injustice of Mullins’ first-half escape, Regional went one better from range after just five minutes of the second stanza. Midfielder Michael Guerin, who has form in this regard, sauntered past Paddy O’Malley, before slamming a 30-yarder past a stationary Neville with his right boot.
Fear of defeat, and a couple of lengthy injury stoppages, then killed the game’s momentum, that was only reignited after a late double substitution from O’Callaghan. Both number 10s made way, with Byron Fitzgerald replacing Olly O’Driscoll, and – crucially – O’Doherty making his return in place of Cox.
O’Doherty’s arrival, at right-wing-back, allowed Regional to push the pacey Patterson up behind Keeley. Now relatively free of defensive responsibility, Patterson immediately had the Pike back-line on the back foot, getting on the end of a Keeley through-ball, only to power it into Neville’s hands under pressure from a recovering Eddie O’Donovan.
B team player and former Limerick hurler Wayne McNamara produced a fine cameo at left-sided centre-back, in place of the injured Jack Molyneaux, as Regional’s defensive personnel woes continued to mount. Pike for their part also lost recent returnee Hanrahan in the second-half, with Eddie Brazier introduced in his stead.
At the end of a typically uneventful 20-minute period of extra-time, the substitution fun continued, when O’Callaghan pulled a Louis Van Gaal by replacing the relatively diminutive Timmy Dalton with rangy young goalkeeper Sean McNamara ahead of the inevitable penalty shootout.
That decision, and the simultaneous one to swap striker Colm Hyland for the injured Cowpar, both paid off handsomely, as McNamara saved from O’Malley and Hyland somehow converted a badly scuffed effort.
Neville also saved brilliantly from Keeley, forcing sudden-death, in which McNamara stepped up again to save a poorly-struck Boyle effort, and O’Doherty redeemed his side’s Munster disappointment – and his own from another code – by slotting away the decider.
Guerin 50′; Hanrahan 33′