A morning that was being touted as the exciting climax to one of the most compelling North East Football League seasons in recent history descended into complete and utter farce at Sandy Lane on Sunday.
Results on Thursday night set the scene nicely for what should have been a dramatic finale. Woodview, who relinquished the title to Boyne Harps after drawing 1-1 with Muirhevnamor, had home advantage in their final game of the season, against old rivals Rock Celtic.
The Seasiders knew that victory would secure their place in the Premier Division for next season. A Woodview win, however, would relegate Rock and see Muirhevnamor occupy third from bottom and a chance to fight for survival against Dromin United in a play-off. The outcome of the Kentstown and Trim Celtic match would also have a bearing on the final table.
The controversy began before a ball was even kicked. One can only imagine what those at Muirhevnamor were thinking when, on Saturday evening, Woodview conceded home advantage. An unplayable pitch at DkIT was mentioned although Woodview’s U16 team played at the same venue on Sunday afternoon. It was the first act of what turned out to be a 90 minute pantomime.
With people making their way to DkIT, the game in Blackrock kicked off with Woodview fielding just 10 players, including manager Gavin McKeever. Stephen Grimes, Billy Smith, Paul Matondo, Johnny Lynch, Ger McSorley, Alan McKenna, Stephen Fisher, Colin Finan and Aidan Sheekey were amongst those who didn’t appear for one reason or another.
The game was just two minutes old when the visitors had a chance to draw first blood but Mickey O’Kane saw his penalty kick saved by John Rogers. Rock immediately went down the other end and David Ward made it 1-0.
From then on it was a mismatch. Woodview, with Padraig Hearty playing centre-back and O’Kane playing on the left wing, folded and conceded another three before the half-time whistle with Ward completing his hat-trick and Emmanuel Alozie also finding the net.
The second half was even worse with Raymond Trimble’s side adding another three without reply; Chris Connolly and Gary Lennon also making their way on to the scoresheet. Woodview went down to nine men when Chris Caulfield was shown a straight red card for dissent and they played with eight men for a spell when McKeever disappeared to the dressing room, only to return to the pitch.
With Kentstown winning against Trim Celtic, Muirhevnamor manager Sean Dixon left Sandy Lane knowing that his team were facing the drop. On reflection, the 1-1 draw with Woodview, leaving the former champions with nothing to play for on Sunday, was what effectively sealed Muirhevnamor’s faith but the circumstances in which they were relegated will leave a bitter taste.
To Rock’s credit, they did what they had to do and since taking the reins from Dermot Keely, Raymond ‘Mondo’ Trimble has guided them to safety, winning their last five games on the trot. With Ardee Celtic showing firm interest in making him their manager for next season, it would be startling if Rock did not tie him to the hot seat at Sandy Lane.
If Trimble stays on, Rock could well be back in the title mix for next season. Whether Woodview are there or not remains to be seen with McKeever tipped to step down as manager. If Sunday was the final act of a team that have swept all before them in recent years, then what a sad way it was to bow out.
It wasn’t just Woodview’s reputation that took a hammering on Sunday. The North East Football League’s decision to allow such an important fixture to be reversed was ridiculous as was the fact that Kentstown played Trim Celtic, home and away, in the space of just four days during the past week.
What last week was being billed as Super Sunday ended up as being nothing more than a shambles.
ROCK CELTIC: John Rogers, Paddy Reilly (Conor McDonnell), Stefan McKevitt, Gary Lennon, Gareth Papworth, Chris Connolly, Shane O’Callaghan, Ed Maguire, Emmanuel Alozie (Des McKeown), David Ward (Andrew Breen), Brian Kilboy.
WOODVIEW CELTIC: Padraig Gorham, Ray McCann, Conor McErlean, Padraig Hearty, Drew Duffy, Gavin McKeever, Chris Caulfield, Alan McCartney, Mickey O’Kane, Owen Armstrong.