Muirhevna Mor celebrate today's Tully Cup final win over Trim Celtic. (Pic: Gerry Shanahan)
Tully Bookmakers Challenge Cup final
Muirhevna Mor 3-2 Trim Celtic
Muirhevna Mor hadn’t won the Tully Cup before 2018, but they have grown so fond of the NEFL’s chief knockout competition over the last 12 months that they have lifted it twice in the calendar year.
Their second seizure of the crown came on Sunday as they saw off Trim Celtic at the MDL Grounds. Just like their victory over Bellurgan United in June, they prevailed, deservedly so, by the slenderest of margins.
Trim hit them with everything they had and a shock looked on the cards when the Royals took a lead early in the second half.
Having lost to the Meath men midweek to relinquish their league title chances, a lesser team could have wilted in the bitter conditions.
Muirhevna’s three-pronged attack - Micky O’Kane, Martin Smith and Billy Smith - returned a goal apiece and looked likely to score on their every sojourn forward, though the result could easily have gone the other way.
Celtic were toothless in the first half, equalising on the stroke of half-time having offered next to nothing offensively, yet it was they who had the look of menace after the break as a mixture of luck and rear-guard excellence ensured Paudi Hearty’s men held on to the advantage Billy Smith gave them in the 68th minute.
Pressure was piled on, but centre-halves Adrian Rafferty and Jimmy Cooney were immense in the closing stages, the latter clearing off the line in stoppage time as O’Kane stood frozen having directed the ball towards his own goal.
Quite simply, Muirhevna just weren’t going to allow another trophy slip their grasp, according to Rafferty: “There was an appetite for us coming down here after losing in the week, knowing the way they celebrated when they went 4-0 up and carrying on.
“It was enough to get us over the line, the fire in the belly was there.
“I’ve been playing with Muirhevna Mor the whole way through the First Division and all through the years and you’d always end up talking about the Tully Cup and the big day out.
“It’s the occasion you want to be a part of and we’ve always said it. It’s a special cup and we’re delighted to be keeping a hold of it.”
Two of the game’s goals arrived in an overall forgettable first half in which the winners were responsible for any good play.
Although their lead effort was scrappy as O’Kane turned home Nathan Murphy’s delivery on 11 minutes amidst a collision with Trim ’keeper Rob Westphal.
Martin Smith had the ball taken off his toe with the target at his mercy just prior to the half hour and the tide appeared the shift thereafter as Trim enjoyed more possession in the ‘Mor’s half, levelling through Eoin O’Connor’s header in added time.
Spilling over from three dismissals on Wednesday night, relations were well strained by this point with referee Simon McMahon’s job made harder as discipline waned. It was to get worse by full-time, when a melee broke out following Muirhevna’s joyous reaction to the final whistle.
“There were a few Trim boys giving us dogs’ abuse today and on Wednesday night. You don’t forget faces and a few nasty things were said,” Rafferty explained.
“Emotions just take a hold of you sometimes and there were a few ugly scenes at the end. But it’s just a great feeling when you win a cup final.”
During the second period, Trim winger Dean Courtney rose to prominence, curling in countless inviting deliveries, one of which yielded a lead goal when Brian Faulkner cushioned the ball into the path of Aaron Williams to fire to the net.
The buffer was short-lived, though, as, within two minutes, Martin Smith nodded over Westphal to restore parity - and Smith completed the comeback 13 minutes later, rifling to the bottom corner from 20 yards.
Chances went begging to extend the advantage, allowing Trim to launch a late onslaught, which almost forced extra-time. O’Kane was indebted to Cooney prior to Faulkner heading off target from five yards.
“Every single ball in was putting us under serious pressure. Some we didn’t defend and Fred (Michael Cooney) was there like he has been all year. Thankfully we just did enough.”
Muirhevna Mor: Michael Cooney; Brian Begley, Adrian Rafferty, Jimmy Cooney, Nathan Murphy; Cody Magill, Philip Duffy, Thomas McShane; Micky O’Kane; Billy Smith, Martin Smith
Subs: Brendan Hughes for McShane (56), Gary Clarke for M. Smith (61), Colin Finan for Magill (76), Tiarnan Mulvenna for B. Smith (86), Chris Caulfield for Murphy (88)
Unused: Vinny Smith, Niall Hearty, Seán Dixon
Trim Celtic: Rob Westphal; Mark Leavy, Eoin O’Connor, Seán Fitzpatrick, James Goggins; Cillien Corcoran, Brian Faulkner, Conor Walsh, Dean Courtney; Colm Carney, Aaron Williams
Subs: Robbie Dillon for O’Connor (HT), Luke Mahon for Williams (61), Derek Donohoe for Corcoran (84)
Officials: Simon McMahon; Peter Burns jnr. & Mike Brien; Ken Ennis