EIGHTEEN year-old Paul Smith was the toast of Creggan on Sunday afternoon as his brace of goals ensured Trojans made up for two years of cup final heartache by finally lifting the McAlinden Cup.
The Creggan club had agonisingly lost out in the 2013 (against Park Bar) and 2014 (against Top of the Hill Celtic) Blue Riband Cup Finals by the narrowest of margins but this year they finally got their hands on the trophy which eluded them for so long.
Manager, Paul Higgins’ fortunes have certainly turned around and it’s been a richly rewarding season for the club.
Trojans won the N. Ireland Intermediate League at the first attempt on Saturday and the majority of that side went in search of McAlinden Cup success 24 hours later against a vastly experienced Park Bar side.
Higgins’ Derry & District F.A. outfit have gone through 2015 unbeaten so far and with the McAlinden Cup now securely in their trophy cabinet, they now go in search of a D&D ‘double’ as they have already booked their place in the City Cabs League Cup semi-finals.
On Sunday, however, it was fleet-footed Trojans attacker, Paul Smith who stole the show with a goal in both halves to see off the challenge of Terry Kelly Cup holders, Park Bar. And Trojans boss, Higgins was full of praise for the star man.
“It’s fantastic because we lost the last two cup finals with the last kick of the ball, so it’s great to finally win it,” said Higgins.
“It was always going to be important to score the first goal in this game because Park are a very good team and thankfully we did that.
“It was two great goals and I’m delighted for Paul who is only 18 years of age. It’s a young team so they’ve done really well.
It’s been an emotional year for us and our IFA Intermediate League side won the league yesterday (Saturday) as well, which involved the majority of these players, so it’s been a brilliant couple of days. And we’re in the League Cup semi-finals too so we’ve still got another one to play for.”
On Sunday it was quickly evident Trojans would be facing a tough task as Park came so close to opening the scoring after just 12 minutes when Gareth Wright was gifted a free header but sent his effort just wide while Gary Martin had to be at his best to get a strong hand to Jordan Armstrong’s 20 yard strike.
Park striker, Gareth Brown’s speculative strike on the volley then skimmed the crossbar on its way over on 24 minutes.
But it was Trojans who broke the deadlock seven minutes later when Smith got onto the end of Darren McFadden’s pass, showed great composure as he side-stepped the keeper before finishing confidently.
And the Creggan side took that narrow lead into the interval.
The second half started at a much higher tempo and for much of the game, particularly in the latter stages, Trojans were forced to adopt an attritional, counter-attacking policy given Park’s dominance of possession.
However, they could so easily have doubled their lead on 49 minutes when Smith found himself through on goal but when he poked the ball past the out of position keeper, Bryan McClelland cleared his shot off the line.
On another counter attack, Brian McClean forced his way past the last defender and rounded the goalkeeper who ran off his line but the Trojans defender couldn’t get a clean connection and his weak shot trickled wide of the post.
Trojans sat dangerously deep in a bid to maintain their advantage but Park’s only real chance came form a Darren McCready half volley from the edge of the area which whistled past the post.
And with four minutes to go, Trojans sealed the win when Caolan Cooley did superbly on the right flank, crossed invitingly into the danger area where Smith prodded home clinically before wheeling away in celebration.
Video courtesy of Liam Crossan