Killarney Celtic weathered the first-half dismissal of Gary Keane to qualify for the last eight of the FAI Junior Cup at Ballynanty Rovers’ expense.
Killarney’s impressive 3-0 Munster Junior Cup victory over Ringmahon Rangers ‘B’ last weekend was enough to convince the Ballynanty Rovers management to change tack for this last 16 tie.
Tom Daly and co. dumped the 4-4-2 system that has seen them outscore their LDL Premier Division peers, opting instead to play Bobby Ryan in a number 10 role behind Gary O’Neill. Target man Peter Ryan therefore dropped to the bench, with Darragh Hughes restored to the side at left-back.
Killarney manager Eoin Donnellan’s options were reduced by the suspension incurred by Cathal O’Shea, who got his marching orders in the previous round away to Newmarket Celtic. The Kerry side survived that blow to emerge with a famous 3-2 victory, and they were faced with the same task here as the first-half reached its midway point.
Plentiful rotation between the Ballynanty front-six saw former Limerick and Sligo Rovers midfielder Jason Hughes pop up free between the lines to thread a through-ball to O’Neill.
With Killarney goalkeeper Roy Kelliher advancing quickly off his line, centre-back Gary Keane took the unwise decision to commit a professional foul on the former Drogheda United hitman, at the cost of a deserved red card.
Donnellan responded to this blow by bravely sticking with a positively-oriented 3-4-1-1 system, and his side duly rewarded him by enjoying the better of the remaining first-half exchanges.
Striker Steven McCarthy shanked wide the only real half-chance of an ultra-scrappy 45 minutes, when Dermot Fitzgerald failed to head clear a deep cross from wing-back Steven Hayes.
That surprising Killarney dominance didn’t last long however, as the hosts emerged from the dressing-rooms with the bit between their collective teeth, peppering the Kerry side’s goal in the second-half’s early stages.
Kelliher pulled off two fantastic saves in quick succession, first denying a low Hughes effort from the area’s edge, and then repelling Kevin Nolan’s flicked header from the resultant short-corner.
Ballynanty also began to take advantage of Killarney’s weakness on the flanks, with right-back Dan Lucey advancing freely to offer his side a useful out-ball. Ten minutes in, Lucey delivered a great back-post cross that O’Neill somehow contrived to turn wide.
Right on the hour, the hosts turned to Jamie Daly, who scored the late winner against Rush Athletic in the previous round, to repeat the trick, as Ballynanty reverted to their usual 4-4-2 shape in an attempt to break the deadlock.
Moments later, one of several useful Hughes corner-kicks should have done just that, when Fitzgerald turned it goalward at the back-post, only to see man of the match Jamie Spillane contort his body on the line and head it over.
With the storm weathered, and Ballynanty noticeably tiring, Spillane turned provider in the 72nd minute, when Shane Guerin unnecessarily slid in on Steven McCarthy in the Killarney half.
The centre-back’s long free-kick was met with some more indecisive penalty-box defending, and McCarthy himself completed the move by slotting away the loose ball.
Lucey remained a threat for the hosts, hitting the bar when left free again on the right-flank, but Killarney responded with a merciless counter-attack into the space the full-back left behind him. Top scorer Wayne Sparling ran into that very space, to collect Steven McCarthy’s through-pass and bag his 13th goal of the season.
Lucey was then removed from the fray, in favour of striker Tony Fahy, as the Ballynanty management turned to the familiar three-striker rescue manoeuvre. But, although Jamie Daly tucked away a loose ball in injury-time, a comeback was never really on the cards against their impressively resolute Kerry opponents.
J. Daly 90+3′; S McCarthy 72′, Sparling 80′
Man of the Match