They’ve been the kingpins of Ulster Senior League football for so long and after a gap of five seasons, Fanad United are the champions again.
Fanad United 1
Cockhill Celtic 0
On Sunday, they produced a competent display to frustrate the favourites Cockhill and against the odds, clinch a memorable league title play-off win.
Given that Ollie Horgan’s team have been chasing the long-time leaders Cockhill since the beginning of the season, Fanad’s title win is all the more remarkable. The manager even admitted in the immediate aftermath of the win that he didn’t see the victory coming. “I didn’t think we were strong enough. I didn’t think we’d enough work done off the field,” he said.
“There’s a fair amount of mileage out there on the pitch, there are a lot of players out there who have won the league four or five years ago and they’ve a lot of miles on the clock. But we dug in and I’m delighted for them.
“Cockhill threw everything at us. O’Connor came up from defence for the last 15 minutes and it was tough going but we knew that would happen. That’s what we did last week. A lot of things went our way last week and I don’t think it did for them today.”
Sunday’s play-off only came about after Fanad put together a four match winning run in their final four games which culminated in a dramatic 3-2 victory in Cockhill last Sunday week. Alan Gethins’ last gasp winner meant the sides finished level on points at the end of the league programme.
If Gethins was the hero in that game, it was defender Seimi Friel Snr. who’ll be remembered as the scorer of the all-important goal in this game. His header from Denis Boyle’s perfectly flighted corner five minutes before half time proving the difference.
In a game of very few goal-scoring chances it was a highly significant moment – Fanad showing why they remain such a threat from dead-ball situations.
Cockhill bossed possession in the second half but for all their effort and experience, they rarely threatened an equaliser. Just once did they go close to levelling matters when Garbhan Friel was sent clear by Jimmy Bradley’s super pass but Liam Grant in the Fanad goal managed to save at the second attempt.
It would surely have been so different for Cockhill if they’d taken the one decent opening that came their way in the first half. With the game goal-less, Paul McKinney’s effort was blocked by a defender and as the ball ran clear, Gerry Gill wastefully shot wide from close in when it seemed easier to score.
Gill, Friel and Malachy McDermott all played well for Cockhill but the longer the game went on, the more Fanad dug in. Big Arthur Lynch and Seimi Friel led the defence with a typically no-nonsense approach and they even managed a few chances of their own with Seimi Friel Jnr. and the excellent Denis Boyle going close.
Cockhill threw on Mark Moran, Derek Doherty and Aidan O’Donnell as they sought that elusive equaliser but Fanad held firm to secure another famous title win.
Fanad United: Liam Grant, Shaun McElwane, Barney Lafferty, Seimi Friel Snr., Arthur Lynch, Trevor Gethins, Seimi Fiel Jnr., Paddy McGrenaghan, Eunan Kelly, Denis Boyle, Alan Gethins (PJ Hagan 84).
Cockhill Celtic: Stephen Conroy, Kieran McLaughlin, Conor Keddy, Oisin McColgan, William McLaughlin, Liam O’Donnell, Jimmy Bradley (Derek Doherty 71), Malachy McDermott, Paul McKinney (Aidan O’Donnell 60), Garbhan Friel, Gerry Gill (Mark Moran 66).
Referee: Tommy McAree
Assistants: Packie Coll, Paul Duddy.
The big moment in this game was the winning goal which came five minutes before half time. A wonderful flowing move from Fanad involving the Gethins brothers ended with Eunan Kelly’s close range header brilliantly tipped round the post by Cockhill keeper, Stephen Conroy. Then from the resulting corner, Denis Boyle’s inswinging delivery was headed home by Seimi Friel.
In a cagey affair, both sets of players concentrated on the football, making life easier for Tommy McAree and his team. The referee dished out a few yellow cards in the second half which all seemed deserved and overall, he handled the game well. The presence of a fourth official – Stephen Toner – on the sideline was also a big help.
This was a tremendous advertisement for the Ulster Senior League and while not everyone is a fan of titles being decided by play-offs, Sunday’s game was a great occasion. The match attracted a big crowd of well over 500 who added to the atmosphere in the fine surrounds of Dry Arch Park.
Man of the match
Ollie Horgan referred to the contribution of some of his more experienced players in this victory and while he didn’t single anyone out, surely the performance of Denis Boyle in midfield will have pleased him most. The No. 10 was involved in everything good about Fanad and aside from the fact that he set up the winning goal, he won no end of possession and was a vital link-man when Fanad needed to get on the ball.
The entire back four of Fanad played well as did Alan Gethins up front. For Cockhill, Stephen Conroy in goal was excellent while Oisin McColgan and Garbhan Friel also did well.