Cian Collins’ early second-half strike settled a poor-quality Munster Junior Cup final in Pike Rovers’ favour, wresting the competition from the grasp of holders St Michael’s.
Pike Rovers’s 4-2 extra-time victory away to Park United, in the last 32 of this competition, stands as the turning point in the Hoops’ season.
Returned to a side that failed to score in four consecutive league games, John Connery formed a productive strike partnership with Cian Collins that fired Pike to victory, and reignited their flagging fortunes.
And, here at Clonmel’s Celtic Park, it was clear from the off that their Tipperary opponents were going to have a hard time containing the pair. Player-manager James ‘Chalky’ Walsh was forced into a second-minute goal-line clearance from Collins, who collected Connery’s deflected left-wing pass in the Saints area.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the pitch, Jimmy Carr was proving to be Michael’s toughest customer to handle.
Fielded initially on the left of midfield, the junior international’s dribbling prowess caused problems from the start — and it was he that teed up the David Slattery strike that forced Gary Neville into an 18th-minute corner-concession.
After initially winning Joey Mulcahy’s resultant delivery at the near-post, Pa Quinn then opened the scoring by bundling in Paul Breen’s penalty-spot header on the Pike goal-line.
Outplayed in midfield, and one goal down, Pike still looked the more threatening side in attack, winning an impressive string of wide free-kicks and corners.
Saints goalkeeper Aaron Wall erred with one of the former, turning a routine catch — from Wayne O’Donovan’s delivery — into a corner-kick. Pa Mullins nipped in at the near-post to glance home Arron Nunan’s subsequent inswinger. Some reward for Nunan, who had earlier seen a point-blank header ruled out for an alleged foul on Wall.
Minutes after that equaliser, the Michael’s back-four found itself all-at-sea again, in the face of some simple route-one football from the Hoops. Mullins returned a goal-kick with his head, which Connery duly back-headered, playing Collins through in behind a square Saints defence.
Collins shifted the ball past a recovering Chris Higgins, only to see his resultant curling effort diverted wide by Wall’s fingertips.
And the irrepressible Connery was at the chance-creation game again in the opening minute of the second stanza, dispossessing Walsh, before completing a one-two with Collins and shooting just wide from the edge of the Saints area.
Michael’s then lost Walsh to injury, with the departing player-manager making the unusual decision to ask Richie Ryan — who had been struggling in an unfamiliar right-wing role — to take his central-defensive place.
Within seconds, Ryan found himself responsible for what proved to be the winner, failing to get his feet right under a dropping ball, and allowing Collins to nip in behind him and emphatically take the most difficult chance the game had afforded him — slamming the ball over a prone Wall from the right-edge of the Michael’s area.
Walsh’s side almost responded immediately to that body-blow, as Walsh’s replacement — the former Aisling Annacotty winger Paddy Fitzgerald — produced a right-wing cross for Quinn to head goalward at the back-post. Wayne Colbert stepped up to clear the striker’s effort off the goal-line.
Injury struck again on the hour-mark for the reigning TSDL league and cup champions, with number 10 David Slattery forced off due to a hamstring problem. Michael Buckley arrived on in his stead, bringing with him a bewildering array of positional changes that significantly reduced the Saints’ chances of getting back in this game.
Central midfielder Colin Bargary was shifted out wide-right, where he did not look comfortable, while Fitzgerald was moved to the left. Most bizarrely, this meant that Carr was moved out of his left-wing zone of influence, joining Quinn up top, and rendering Michael’s completely devoid of much-needed width.
Unsurprisingly, Pike’s defence of their lead proved to be a comfortable one from that point on, against a toothless Saints side that created absolutely nothing after Collins’ 52nd-minute winner.
Indeed, it was Pike who could — and should — have stretched their lead in the game’s final stages, with a profligate Collins missing one point-blank chance he created himself — by rounding a leggy-looking Breen — and heading another straight at Wall, when teed up by yet another Connery key-pass.
The striker took the chance that ultimately counted, however, and his co-managers Eddie O’Donovan, Daithi O’Donoghue, and Colm Enright now have a major cup victory to celebrate, and compensate for a disappointing league campaign.
Quinn 18′; P. Mullins 24′, Collins 52′
Man of the Match