Annacotty was the site of yet another dramatic sudden-death shootout, as Fairview Rangers narrowly advanced to the Munster Junior Cup semi-finals at Nenagh AFC’s expense.
The weather might have cost Nenagh home advantage, but the Tipperary side had no-one but themselves to blame for Fairview’s 12th-minute opener.
Both teams’ keenness to engage the opposition high looked likely to produce a goal. And so it proved when a failed Nenagh attempt to play out from the back saw Darragh Rainsford played through on the left of the area. From an acute angle, the former Limerick FC midfielder forced the ball through the legs of a floored Aaron Savage.
Nenagh’s commitment to playing it short in their own half led to some more dicey moments, as did the physical presence of Fairview striker Christy Doyle, who continually gave his opposing centre-backs something to think about in the first-half.
Often guilty of marking Doyle too loosely, Nenagh were very nearly punished for it just before the break. The former Janesboro and Newport forward was allowed to collect a right-wing cross on the edge of the area, spin on a sixpence, and strike the base of Savage’s right-hand post.
When Rainsford struck that exact same spot again, just seconds later, after walking through the inside-right channel, Nenagh were really living a charmed life.
That said, despite those three chances, Nenagh enjoyed the majority of the first-half possession, without ever really threatening to find a breakthrough from open play.
With three elegant passers in central midfield, and a natural winger playing the false nine role in Daniel Butler, the Tipperary side lacked both a number 10 and a penalty-box focal point to make things happen in the final third.
Out wide, John Mitchell’s work-rate and Nathan Kelly’s trickery were useful, without much end-product, save for the mid-half chance that fell to the latter — created by Max Boghiu’s overlap, and a nice Butler through-ball from between Fairview’s lines. Kelly shot wide in the box, under pressure from Brian Fitzgerald.
It was from set-pieces that Nenagh really looked likely, against a Fairview side that has consistently struggled to defend them this season. Mark McKenna’s early near-post header, from a Butler corner, that flew just over, was a sign of things to come.
With every ball lobbed into the box looking potentially fatal, it was no surprise when an injury-time long-throw paid dividends, with 17-year-old Dylan Sheahan the man to poke home the loose ball and level the scores.
A chance-free second-half saw Nenagh even more dominant against a quickly-tiring Fairview; again, with no final-third penetration forthcoming, even after top league goalscorer Ryan Gilmartin was introduced up top, shifting Butler out to his more natural right-wing position.
Typified by the excellent front-foot defending of tireless right-back Jordan Lewis, Nenagh used their relative conditioning advantage to be first to seemingly every second-ball. But, the dysfunction in front of the Fairview goal could not be overcome.
Instead, in extra-time, it was Paul O’Donnell’s side who looked like grabbing the tie, just before the break. A silly extended leg from centre-back Cathal Coonan, that downed Jonathan Hannafin in the Nenagh area, handed Rainsford the chance to win it from the spot, as he did in September’s controversial FAI Junior Cup tie. This time, Savage came out on top however, with a great diving save to his right.
The dual introduction of 15-year-old wonderkid Barry Coffey — in a number 10 role — and injury-returnee Thomas Sheppard handed Nenagh renewed impetus, which they used to win a late, late free-kick on the left-touchline. Butler delivered, and the ball glanced off Sheppard’s head and inches over Shane Cusack’s crossbar.
That near-miss heralded the first five rounds of penalties, during which both players that were brought on specifically to take one — Nenagh’s Ben Banaghan and Fairview’s returning Bobby Tier — did the business.
Cruelly, Lewis appeared to make himself the villain by failing to score in the seventh round, only to see Savage save Hannafin’s resultant effort and match Cusack’s efforts.
Sheppard and Darragh Carroll both scored in the eighth round, before Gilmartin delivered the ball into Cusack’s hands — allowing the goalkeeper himself to send Fairview into the semi-finals.
They will be joined in the last-four by Pike Rovers, who easily overcame Ballinroad as expected, and potentially Aisling Annacotty too, if Broadford can be bested next weekend.
D. Sheahan 45+1′; Rainsford 12′
Man of the Match