St. Colm’s came out on top in a nail biting 4-3 thriller on Wednesday 1st of May at Allen Park, Antrim, in the Northern Ireland Small Schools U13 Cup Final. They were up against cup favourites, Dunluce High School who had annihilated all before them in the opening round, quarterfinal and semi-final.
The pulsating game began with St. Colm’s soaring into an early 2 goal lead; both goals coming from star striker Ben Mallon and assisted by midfield maestro Ben O’Connor. For the first goal Ben O’Connor put a dipping ball into Ben Mallon who took it down with a soft touch and passed it into the bottom corner. For his second goal a high ball was lofted his way which he headed up in the air and, noticing the keeper coming off his line, headed it again over the keeper having presence of mind to then round the keeper and tap into the open net. Soon after this, Dunluce went on the attack and scored a stunning tiki taka style goal past Conor Moran in the Draperstown nets. This had all the hall marks of a goal fest and surely to be a cracker of a game. It did not disappoint.
However, this lifeline lasted no more than five minutes before Ben Mallon struck again, for his hat-trick goal, to make the score 3-1. Another sweet pass from Ben O’Connor into the path of Mallon with him choosing this time to strike left foot to top left corner.
St. Colm’s midfield trio, of captain John Boyle, Ben O’Connor and Shea Wilson, had an excellent first half full of skilful interceptions and setting up play for Gabriel O’Hagan, who was continuously making pulsating runs on the right wing, and Ben Mallon who was proving a handful for Dunluce.
Dunluce put the St. Colm’s defence under intense pressure time and again and not for the brilliance of Conor Moran in nets this game could have been over at half-time. He saved point blank shots and tipped balls round the posts and over the bar to keep the score line in St. Colm’s favour, much to the disbelief of the Dunluce forwards.
Just before the half-time whistle, against the run of play, the St. Colm’s defence came under threat on the right wing and the ball blasted low and hard in a goal bound effort. Although initially saved the ball was bundled over the line leading to a second Dunluce goal and setting the stage for an exciting second half. Half time score 3 – 2.
A change of formation at half-time was the final key to St. Colm’s success. Patrick Kelly moved from his position on the left wing into a central midfield role. In doing so, he was able to nullify the threat of Dunluce’s number 10, their most dangerous player, who, throughout the first half, had made life difficult for the St. Colm’s defence with his rampaging runs and superior physicality. This extra support helped further solidify the defensive line of Iarlaith McGuigan, Jamie Mallon, Lorcan Bradley and Ronan Donnelly, who were commanding presences throughout.
Early in the second half Michael McKenna came in to the game on the right wing and linked up with the midfield, carrying the game into Dunluce territory time and again.
St. Colm’s were gifted some breathing room further into the second half when an error in the Dunluce defence led to an own goal which made the score 4-2.
Shortly after this, St. Colm’s industrious midfielder, Shea Wilson, took a bruising tackle, which caused him to hobble off the pitch, his game seemingly over. Replacement, Nathan Murphy, had not been on the field for six minutes before Shea, through sheer determination, forced himself back into the field of play to see the game through to the end.
Ben O Connor had been carrying a calf injury into the game which eventually cramped up so left the field of play allowing Nathan to stay on in midfield.
With 10 minutes left on the clock, Dunluce were awarded a dubious penalty for hand ball, which was duly slotted home by their imposing number 10 making the score line 4 -3 and leaving spectators with an ‘edge of the seats’ nail biter as the seconds ticked forward to the referee’s final long whistle.
Phillip Heron was brought in to assist in the defence and hattrick hero Ben Mallon came off to a loud cheer to be replaced by Matthew Lagan to see out the game in a more defensive role with aim of protecting the one goal lead.
Thankfully, Conor Moran, the DDF keeper, was in outstanding form and in the closing stages made several more crucial saves, intercepted crosses and made great kick outs to relieve the pressure on his defence. In doing so, he was one of the main reasons St. Colm’s captain John Boyle and hattrick maestro Ben Mallon lifted the Northern Ireland Small Schools cup together, making history in doing so.
Overall the team management of Paul McCaffrey & Joe Convery were delighted with the result and gave praise for the fantastic, complete team performance on the day. Special praise was also reserved for Shaun Breen, Tiernan McErlain, Shea O’Connor, Dylan O’Neill, Kristian Donnelly and Patrick Higgins, players who played in the earlier rounds but did not get minutes in the final. They said, “This is a very significant day for St. Colm’s High School as this is our first trophy to have won in a Soccer competition and would like to recognise the brilliant work done by Draperstown Celtic. DC are sending us young players who have all the skills and desire to play Soccer, so it makes it very easy for us to build on their achievements. Hopefully with this this success there will be a continued interest in school Soccer and there will be lots more trophies to come!”
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