Dundalk U19s got their new season off to the best possible start as they came from behind to beat a much fancied Shelbourne side at Tolka Park on Saturday afternoon.
Martin Connolly’s side contained a number of players who were making their debut at this level but they weren’t phased by the occasion or the healthy crowd at the Drumcondra ground.
Shels, who were runners-up in the U19 Elite Division for the past two seasons, found themselves on the back foot in the first-half as Dundalk created the better of the chances with captain Georgie Poynton and Michael O’Connor, who has signed for the club after returning from Bristol City, going close.
The second-half started at a brisk pace and the home side took the lead when midfielder Sean McGrane’s harmless looking shot caught Dundalk goalkeeper Darren McGarry in two minds whether to catch the ball or divert it over the top. The Trim youngster did neither and the ball nestled in the back of the net.
Connolly’s youngsters refused to buckle and they should have drawn level shortly after when Poynton found himself one on one with the Shels goalkeeper Jack Brady but, with the whole goal to aim at, he shot straight at the keeper.
Dundalk continued to press and they deservedly equalised in the 68th minute when Craig Doherty found Alex Barry with a fantastic crossfield pass from left to right and the former Malahide striker took the ball down brilliantly on his chest before firing home.
With the momentum behind them, the young Lilywhites forged ahead shortly after. Again, Doherty was the provider with his cross from the left headed to the net by the incoming Poynton who nipped in just ahead of the Shels goalkeeper.
The Reds enjoyed plenty of possession in the final stages as they pushed for a second goal but Dundalk, led brilliantly by Anton Reilly and Paul Finnegan at the back, held on to take a notable scalp on the first day of the campaign.
Speaking afterwards, Connolly said he was delighted with the performance of his young guns.
“That was a superb win,” he said. “Shels are one of the favourites to win the Northern Division and they would have the pick of any up and coming young players from the Dublin area,” he explained.
“At Dundalk, we would be looking at the second crop of players from the Dublin area, the ones who don’t sign for Shels, Shamrock Rovers, St Pat’s or Bohemians, so, to beat Shels on a big pitch like Tolka Park is a great start.”
Even more pleasing for Connolly will be the fact that seven of his starting XI are eligible for the U19 league again next year.
“We had a lot of lads making their debut at U19 level out there. Five of them were born in 1997 which makes them eligible again for U19 next year and two of them were born in ‘98 which makes them underage at this level for the next two years!
“With that in mind, we needed players like Reilly, Finnegan and Poynton - three who have been involved with the first-team - to really step up and they did that. For me, they all stood out, along with Craig Doherty. That bodes well for the season ahead.”
Dundalk U19s play their first home game on Saturday when they meet Sligo Rovers at Oriel Park at 2pm.
SHELBOURNE U19: Jack Brady, Andy Gorman, Andrew Ward, Darragh Gannon, Sean McGrane, Aaron Ashe, Paddy Obijuru, Armstrong Bekombo, Adam Farrell, Conor Keely, Aaron Robinson. Subs: Gavin Kearney, Dylan Grimes, Ronan O’Flynn, Aaron Robinson, George Mukete, Luke Doyle, Eric Donnelly (GK).
DUNDALK U19: Darren McGarry, Alan McQuillan, Paul Finnegan, Anton Reilly, Carlton Ubaezuonu, Georgie Poynton, Dylan O’Reilly (Nathan Garland), Darragh Lafferty, Craig Doherty (Craig Pentony), Michael O’Connor (Dylan O’Hanlon), Alex Barry. Unused subs: Nathan Seery, Calvin Murphy, Conor McCoy, Martin Kowalczyk (GK).
Drogheda United 3-0 Letterkenny Rovers; Derry City 3-0 Longford Town; Sligo Rovers 0-1 Bohemians; St Pat’s Athletic 4-0 Finn Harps