Penalty heartbreak for St Columb's College in NI Schools Cup Final

TEN MAN St. Columb’s College suffered penalty heartbreak in the Northern Ireland Schools FA Intermediate Cup Final at the Coleraine Showgrounds on Thursday afternoon.

By Simon Collins
Thursday, 12th May 2022, 7:15 pm

The Buncrana Road school’s record in the competition is unmatched as seven times champions since 2000 but it wasn’t to be at the home of Coleraine FC as Belfast side, St Malachy’s College, claimed the bragging rights with a 5-4 penalty shoot-out victory.

Reigning champions, St. Columb’s needed to claw back a 1-0 first half deficit after Michael Simpson rose majestically to send a glancing header into the net after 23 minutes.

The Belfast boys were full value for their slender lead at the interval but St. Columb’s emerged after the break in determined fashion and really should’ve won the game as they dominated their opponents.

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The St Columb’s College U14 team which lost on penalties to St Malachy’s in the N. Ireland Schools’ F.A. Intermediate Cup Final in Coleraine. Photographs by Benny Tejada.

Institute U15 forward, Lennon McWilliams' speculative, dipping strike from distance went just wide of the far post with goalkeeper Rory Finney anxiously back pedalling.

Ciaran Boyle fired over the crossbar for St. Malachy’s shortly afterwards after Charlie Green got a fist to punch away Darragh Maguire’s free-kick towards the front post.

It was one-way traffic after that as St. Columb’s churned through the gears. Fionn Duffy pounced inside the penalty box from a corner kick after St Malachy’s failed to clear but his shot on the volley went over the bar.

The Derry side were knocking at the door and almost benefited from a mix-up in the St. Malachy’s defence as Daniel McCaffrey attempted a back pass having failed to see his goalkeeper advance from his box and the ball rolled agonisingly wide of the post.

St Columb’s College coach, James Green remonstrates with the fourth official as fellow coach Mark Tracey watches on.

Duffy and Ryan McDowell came close as chance after chance went begging until Aidan Tejada produced a moment of brilliance with a curling strike from 25 yards which hit the back of the St Malachy’s net with 56 minutes on the clock.

St Columb’s had the bit between their teeth after that strike and Callum Doherty’s deflected strike shaved the upright before Oran Donnelly’s right footed shot from an angle was saved by the outstretched leg of Finney.

Neither side could fashion a winner in normal time and when Duffy was sent off for a second bookable offence following a robust challenge on the halfway line St Columb’s were up against it for 10 minutes of extra-time.

Green produced a terrific save to turn Lewis Smyth’s goalbound strike around the post for a corner but St Columb’s really should’ve won it in the second period of extra time but Duffy fired a tame effort straight at the keeper from close range.

It was to be decided on penalties. McWilliams, Callum Doherty, Ryan McDowell and Cathal O’Hagan converted from the spot in a dramatic shootout for St Columb’s and despite two failed attempts, including another excellent save from Green, St Malachy’s emerged victorious when Ben McManus tucked away the winning spotkick.

The St Columb’s players were despondent as St Malachy’s celebrated a third Intermediate Cup success but joint manager James Green reckons his ‘brave’ boys will learn from a valuable experience.

“Obviously they will be downhearted but they will learn from this experience, the ones that missed and the ones that stepped up,” said Green. “They were brave and fair play to them.

“We’ll be back next year,” he promised. “This just makes us want to go away and work harder. Us coaches will discuss this and we will get feedback from the players and make the experience even better next year.”

After a two years enforced layoff from Schools football it was good to be back in competitive action for this tournament and Green said he was immensely proud of the players.

“First half they (St Malachy’s) edged it. Second half we came out like a different animal. We demanded that they hit the standards that they set for themselves. Sometimes youngsters can get nervous and anxious but they’ve got to embrace it and they did in the second half. We asked them to be brave, get on the football and move it about and that's what they did and that’s why they had so much success in that second half.

“It’s a shame they don’t quite get the rewards for their efforts throughout the year but I’m massively proud of them and the school’s proud of them. They’ve been brave and that’s all we can ask of them.

“We got to the semi-final the first year and then Covid hit so for this group they’ve missed a lot of football, as everyone has but there’s a good bond in this group and certainly they will be back next year.”

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