Gavin McDaid produced a dramatic winner in extra-time as Letterkenny Rovers secured their place in the quarter-finals of the FAI Youth Cup.
Ballybrack FC 0
Letterkenny Rovers 1 (AET)
With Sunday afternoon’s game on an absolute knife edge, McDaid pounced inside the box to convert his chance and score the only goal of the game after 102 minutes in what was an absorbing cup tie with Ballybrack FC in Dublin.
The DDSL outfit were, by some distance, the toughest opponents Rovers have faced in this year’s competition and the victory will give Antony Gorman’s side a huge boost as they make their way into the last eight for the second season in a row.
The Letterkenny men have already accounted for Strand Celtic from Sligo, Fanad United, Cappry Rovers and Roscommon Town without conceding a goal en route to this stage.
And while they worked extremely hard for the victory, they also had to rely on some excellent goalkeeping from Jason Quinn who gave a very commendable performance between the sticks.
But overall, this was a match packed with goalmouth incident as McDaid was presented with some decent opportunities for Rovers before finally seizing his moment in extra-time.
Played on an artificial surface, it did take Rovers time to adjust as the Dubliners made most of the early running.
Indeed, Quinn had to be alert inside the opening five minutes to show his reflexes and divert a Paddy Byrle volley over the crossbar from 12 yards.
It was an early warning for the visitors but they soon settled into the game as the back four of captain Liam Blaney, the irrepressible Jack Blake, Brandon Toye and Noah Mailey put up a firm resistance.
Kevin O’Donnell threatened from set pieces and also saw a stinging shot go narrowly over the crossbar on the half hour mark while Gareth Doherty and Dylan Sweeney got to grips in midfield with some industrious work.
The game certainly opened up more in the second half. McDaid volleyed just wide of the target after good link-up play from Marty Vance, who replaced the injured Michael Miller just before half-time.
Ballybrack’s aerial threat from set-pieces made life difficult for the visitors and Nathan Kelly was unlucky with a couple of headed efforts which went narrowly wide.
But at the other end, Liam Blaney was denied from a goal line clearance after he connected with a Doherty corner.
In extra-time, Ryan McCloskey produced a superb run and the goalkeeper Jamie Prenter let his effort slip through his hands before the ball spun agonisingly along the goal line and eventually to safety.
Then the decisive moment in the match arrived two minutes into the second period of extra-time when Gareth Doherty clipped the ball forward, defender Conor O’Mahoney failed to get a clean header on it and McDaid was perfectly placed to take full advantage and slide the ball beyond the goalkeeper and into the net to spark scenes of celebration for the Donegal side.
There was still a late chance for O’Mahoney to make amends but Quinn made a smart safe to ensure his team’s passage through.
Gorman’s men now turn their attention to next week’s league title decider against Keadue Rovers.
Rovers travel to Central Park knowing that a draw will be good enough to clinch the Donegal Youth League title.
Ballybrack FC: Jamie Prenter, Jacob Radomsk, Jake Flynn, Nathal Kelly, Conor O’Mahoney, Dan Meehan, Aaron Delaney, Carl Doyle, Paddy Byrle, Conor Blackmore, Sean Brennan.
Letterkenny Rovers: Jason Quinn, Brandon Toye (Simon McGlynn on 95 mins), Noah Mailey, Liam Blaney, Jack Blake, Gareth Doherty, Michael Miller (Marty Vance on 32 mins), Dylan Sweeney, Gavin McDaid, Ryan McCloskey, Kevin O’Donnell.
Referee: Philip Harrison.