FIVE MINUTES of madness sparked the 2013 Terry Kelly Memorial Cup Final into life and ultimately gifted Top of the Hill Celtic their fourth title on Sunday evening last at Brandywell.
SIMON COLLINS was at Brandywell Stadium
Photographs: PHIL GAMBLE
Jason Blackburn’s second half winning strike was shrouded in controversy as match referee, Noel O’Donnell stole the headlines having refused to call a halt to proceedings despite the fact that there was an extra ball on the pitch in the build-up to the goal!
The Trojans’ management were also incensed that Mr. O’Donnell had failed to award what they viewed as a certain foul on goalkeeper, Gary Ramsey before the ball was eventually put into the net by Blackburn.
Tensions heightened after the injustice of that goal and five minutes later Trojans’ right-back, Brian McClean saw red for what appeared a nasty challenge on Neil Harkin in front of the Brandywell dugouts.
With both sets of players seemingly rattled after those five minutes of controversy, the contest lost all its fluidity.
And despite Trojans best efforts to get back in the game, it petered out and the Waterside men were crowned champions in the D&D’s first cup competition of the season.
It was a bitter pill to swallow for Trojans management duo, Paul Higgins and Raymond Carton, who were hopeful of securing silverware in the Creggan club’s 75th anniversary year and their first ever appearance in the final of this competition.
There was no sympathy from the Top of the Hill men, however, as their recent domination continues and they are still on track for a possible clean sweep of trophies this year.
The frantic five minutes which decided the game was in stark contrast to a lifeless first half which was instantly forgettable once the whistle came to signal the interval.
It was a scrappy affair from the outset with neither side creating anything of note in the final third but Top of the Hill’s Blackburn should have done better when Darren Harkin found him just inside the Trojans’ penalty area on eight minutes and he scuffed his shot wide of the target.
Kevin Ramsey then found himself through on goal on the half hour mark and just as he prepared to round the goalkeeper he was brought crashing down on the edge of the box by a retreating Top of the Hill defender, much to the annoyance of the Trojans’ bench.
The resultant free-kick came to nothing as both sides continued to be wasteful in front of goal and as half-time approached Neil Harkin’s corner kick was headed over the crossbar by defender, Cathal Sharkey.
The best chance of the half fell to the Creggan club three minutes before the interval as captain, Brendan McDonald carved open the opposition defence with an incisive throughball and just as Patrick McKeever prepared to bear down on goal, Ryan McCloskey advanced from his line and closed down the shot.
Ramsey was proving to be Trojans’ main threat and when he out-muscled Sharkey the goal was at his mercy but he mis-hit his strike and the chance was lost as the half drew to a close.
It was a disappointing opening 45 minutes and the second half didn’t offer much promise either when the game resumed as Neil Harkin blasted his wayward free-kick over the crossbar from 25 yards.
Top of the Hill almost broke the deadlock on 68 minutes when James Boyd played Blackburn through on goal. Brushing off the challenge of McClean, he attempted to round Gary Ramsey but the ‘keeper managed to get a hand to the ball.
Blackburn regained possession but his strike on the turn was gathered cleanly by Ramsey who had quickly got back on his feet.
Top of the Hill ‘keeper, McCloskey was perhaps fortunate to get away with a booking on 71 minutes when racing out of his penalty area to bring down Ramsey but the resultant free-kick came to nothing.
And then came those five minutes of mayhem which began with what proved to be the deciding goal on 77 minutes. Boyd raced down the left wing, by-passing a stray ball which was ignored by the referee despite protestations from the Trojans’ bench.
When Boyd crossed into the six yard box, Trojans keeper, Ramsey appeared to be fouled by Darren Harkin who was stretching to get a touch to the ball and when it broke to BLACKBURN, the former Institute man blasted home from eight yards.
That controversial goal set the tone for the remainder of the game as Trojans felt aggrieved and, as tensions rose, McClean was given his marching orders for an over-the-top lunge on Harkin on the halfway line.
The game was over as a contest after this despite Trojans’ best efforts as substitute Dee Powell and Ramsey both had free-kicks off target but the Creggan side had good reason to feel aggrieved at the final whistle.
It was a hard blow to take for the Creggan men but, having said that, Top of the Hill Celtic will take that piece of fortune with open arms as they continue to dominate at the top level of the Derry & District F.A.
Top of the Hill Celtic - Ryan McCloskey; Brendan Elliott, Gerard Kelly, Ryan Browne, Cathal Sharkey (Andy Devlin 39m); Conor Houston,Gary Cassidy, James Boyd, Neil Harkin, Jason Blackburn, Darren Harkin; Subs Not Used - Corey Wilson, Brendan Doherty, Colum Campbell, James McGinley, Chris Monteith.
Trojans - Gary Ramsey; Brian McClean, Adam Collins, Patrick McKeever, Daryl McDermott; Tony Deery, Shane Quinn (Conor Gillespie 62m), Sean McGinley, Brendan McDonald; Mark McEleney, Kevin Ramsey; Subs Not Used - Damien Powell, Sean Mooney, Conor Gillespie, Ciaran Harkin, Jake Still.
Referee - Mr. Noel O’Donnell.