Festive cheer for Raphoe, Avoca


RAPHOE and Avoca can feel exhilarated, at least for Christmas week, following their forceful performances on Saturday. However, Raphoe had hoped - following their elimination of Annadale - that their passage to the quarter-finals of the Irish Senior Cup would be rewarded with a less demanding assignment than a trip to Banbridge on January 11th.

It was in Banbridge three years ago that the Donegal side's run in the all-Ireland competition came to an end in the last-eight stage, losing out to a goal by Norman McGladdery in extra time. But the team has matured considerably since then, not least in setting the pace in the Ulster Senior League this season.

"We are playing as well as we have ever been," said skipper Gabriel McNulty, after the gritty 3-2 defeat of Annadale in Saturday's third-round replay at the Royal & Prior School.

Raphoe went into a 3-0 lead through strikes by Jonathan Lecky (two) and Johnny Weir. Annadale - having shared in a 10-goal extravaganza the previous week - still made a fight of it but David Buchanan showed his prowess between the home posts and was beaten only by Andrew Smyth, whose second score from a penalty stroke came too late to threaten Raphoe's advance.

Of the other quarter-final ties in the Nissan-driven competition, the highest velocity game promises to be at Serpentine Avenue between Pembroke Wanderers and Holywood (beaten only by Avoca in the semi-finals last season). Lisnagarvey, who defeated Cork C of I at the same stage, will be respectful of their mission in Cork against Belvedere following what happened to C of I nine days ago. Railway Union, at home to Monkstown in the most modest pairing, would particularly relish a place in the last four.

Avoca, meanwhile, having surrendered the Irish Cup, remain determined to stay in European competition via the Leinster League. Their 3-2 win over Glenanne at Rathdown on Saturday took them to the top of the table and if they play with the same aggression against Three Rock Rovers next weekend, the Blackrock side can remain on the first rung going into the New Year.

Initially, the absence of five first-choice figures saw Avoca conceding ground to sprightly Glenanne, who, with notable impetus coming from Paul Fitzpatrick, went two up through Stephen Butler from short corners at the start of each half.

Relentless pressure from mid-field, however, especially from a refreshed Robbie Ryan, left Glenanne defending as best they could and while there may have been an infringement here and there, Avoca carved out their victory. Enda Gallanagh showed admirable control to slot home the first goal; Ryan equalised with a lightning reverse-stick shot which would be even more appreciated by Ireland in Kula Lumpur in March, and New Zealander Paul Derham emphasised his strong basics in delivering a searing short-corner winner.

St Brendan's/Phoenix Park also enjoyed a mild celebration, recording their first league success of the season, with a goal by Donal Byrne earning the points at Corinthians' expense at Whitechurch Park.