Sunday last is a day that will live long in the memory for those connected with Milford United Football Club but there’s plenty more on the horizon for the club from Moyle View Park.
Athenry trudged into town with a reputation of being the best from the west. With their name inscribed on four of the last five Connacht Cups and three Western Hygiene Supplies Galway and District Premier Divisions, Peter Doherty’s team were lengthily priced.
However, a titanic struggle, and one that saw three players given straight reds for matching offences ensured and although neither team scored during the 90 minutes and 20 of extra-time there were enough talking points and incidents to ensure the chilly crowd of 300 stayed until the bitter end.
Caolan McGettigan, Milford’s goalkeeper, was involved in a dangerous collision 10 minutes from time. As Ian Strain warmed up he was told by his manager to make a hero of himself. And after saving the 13th penalty in an otherwise flawless competition, Strain left Paddy Peoples in a position to win it more Milford, which he did.
“I said to Ian today was the day to make himself a hero and I’m glad he did,” Doherty said afterwards. “There were some good quality penalties but we dug in deep there. Athenry are a good quality side and we were delighted to come out on top. It’s a horrible way to lose, on penalties, but it’s happened to use before so it’s a case of swings and roundabouts.”
“It was a real battle,” Peoples said. “They were happy with penalties when extra-time started but on Thursday evening we practised penalties so Peter had us prepared. Everyone put in a tight shift and although Caolan was a loss, Ian came in and did the job. It’s great doing well in the cup but the main one for us is the league and that’s what we will be focusing on before the next round.”
Although certainly well supported by all fractions of the Donegal League, Milford, who welcome last year’s FAI Junior Cup winners Pike Rovers from Limerick in the next round on February 12, can expect little formalities as their domestic season restarts. A bit like the Barclay’s Premier League this Sunday, the top four are scheduled to face one another.
Milford take on a Glenea side who last weekend moved into their second place in the standings. Lagan Harps endured a woeful start to the New Year when they were hammered 5-1 at home by Eany Celtic seven days beforehand but any notion Damien McFadden’s side had of eradicating that loss were blown away by Tom Coll’s team.
The margins were thin after a scoreless first half but in the second 45 minutes Glenea continued their fine form of late. Two minutes in, Kevin Mulhern’s blocked effort fell in to the path of Brian Cuffe and he drove home from the edge of the area. A second came when full-back Kevin McFadden before Mulhern tapped home at the back post.
Sunday’s meeting with Milford will provide concrete evidence of just how realistic the championship aspirations are of both teams.
Gweedore Celtic currently lead the way, six points in front of Glenea and seven ahead of Milford. But Hughie Rua Gallagher’s team mightn’t have lost in 54 weeks but on Sunday they welcome the last side to get the better of them in the league.
Kilmacrennan Celtic, on their last visit to An Screaban, were back-to-back league champions and a team who knew how to get over the line. Last January they were penned in by Gweedore, but from one fluent and meaningful break Philip Buchanan chipped Micheal McKelvey for last minute winner.
Perversely, though, Gallagher’s squad used the experience as a motivation and started a wonderful run that took them to their first league championship in a generation, ironically sealed in Letterkenny on May’s Bank Holiday in the return against Kilmacrennan. Victory in the Brian McCormick Sports Cup, again, against Sean Sandilands’ team, showed there were no inhibitions.
Gweedore’s golden streak is still in operation. Last weekend they won 4-1 against Castlefin Celtic at Parkview, a traditionally tough place to go but Kilmacrennan will certainly provide a test come Sunday.