Derry edge a thriller


Derry City 4 St Patrick's Athletic 3:At last, the fitting send off Lansdowne Road deserved.  Both the international soccer and rugby teams closed out their time at the old ground with low-key, anti-climactic games against San Marino and the Pacific Islands respectively.  With the bulldozers lurking, it took two domestic soccer teams to serve up the belting finale so befitting.

As is so often the case in games like these, neither team deserved to lose.  St Patrick's, without an FAI Cup success since 1961, did everything they possibly could to put that right, taking the lead three times only to concede the silverware late on to extra-time own goal.  Derry, likewise, showed tremendous character to maintain focus and dig as deep as they did, to come from behind on three occasions.

That stubbornness and determination is a trait instilled over time by manager Stephen Kenny who now severs all ties with the club and returns to his new life with Dunfermline.  His return for this game had been criticised by a minority, but it proved a fitting end to his tenure and just rewards for his players who battled ferociously, on so many fronts, during a energy sapping season. 

St Patrick's, on the other hand, are still searching for the break they need to ignite the club.  Victory would have secured both European and Setanta Cup football next season, a lift which could have revived the sleeping giants of Inchicore - a fact not lost on manager John McDonnell.  However, despite giving it their all, McDonnell's soldiers suffered the cruelest of fates, not least Stephen Brennan, whose own goal settled the tie in the most unfortunate of circumstances. 

Swirling gale-force winds twinned, at times, with driving rain laid cumbersome foundations for attractive football.  Consequently, stray passing and wayward shooting dictated the opening exchanges.  Derry, though, coped marginally better early on and with Barry Molloy dictating in midfield and Paddy McCourt exhilarating on the wing, they quickly settled.

More often than not McCourt dictated Derry's approach and his slaloming runs when cutting in off the left flummoxed full back Stephen Quigley and winger Anto Murphy.  Still, despite the winger's attacking prowess a final ball was often lacking with an under pressure Pat's defence ultimately scrambling to safety when needed.

Although playing off the back foot early on, St Patrick's themselves settled and established a rhythm which stumped Derry on occasion.  Murphy's defensive work was erratic, and often reckless, but his direct running and thundering throw-ins worried a Derry defence that looked less than watertight.

Indeed, having built up some momentum, the Inchicore side opened the scoring with 19 minutes played.  Dave Mulcahy timed his run from deep to perfection, racing in ahead of defender Peter Hutton to collect Murphy's through ball.  Having gathered, he then lifted over goalkeeper David Forde who had raced off his line. 

While not quite against run of play, the strike was still a telling blow to Derry who until that point had shaded an enticing contest. But credit the league runners-up who regrouped smartly and equalised just seven minutes later. 

McCourt collected from Forde in his own half, shifted past two innocuous challenges, and played a delightful through ball from the centre circle which split the scrambling defence and allowed Mark Farren in to collect.  The striker showed superb composure in the box before scooping the ball past Barry Ryan. 

Conditions improved dramatically in the second half, and so to did St Patrick's.  Whereas their play was disjointed in the opening half, McDonnell's men were certainly more structured in their approach thereafter.  Mulcahy was inspirational in the centre, dictating both pace and direction while striker Trevor Molloy was his busy self, dropping deep to collect and create.

It was Molloy who edged his side in front again when slotting home from the penalty spot with 15 minutes remaining having been upended by Hutton.  But, with just five minutes left of normal time, Derry dug deep again and forced extra-time when Clive Delaney bundled home from close range.

But in an exhilarating game St Patrick's again edged in front during extra-time.  Substitute Sean O'Connor played a neat one-two with Mark Quigley and finished low past Forde.  The St Patrick's supporters rejoiced in the stands but the celebrations were short lived as Hutton retaliated by bundling home at the back post two minutes into the second period of extra-time.

Penalties looked a certainty until Brennan's headed own-goal with 10 minutes remaining settled the contest.  The defender had been arguably St Patrick's best player and the cruel manner in which his game ended typified the luckless day, having given absolutely everything, his team collectively endured.

Derry City:  Forde; McCallion, Delaney, Hutton, Brennan; Deery, Higgins, Molloy, McCourt; Beckett, Farren.  Subs:  McGlynn for Deery (72), McHugh for Higgins (79), Hargan for Beckett (94).

St Patrick's Athletic:  Ryan; S Quigley, C Foley, Brennan, Frost; Murphy, Mulcahy, M Foley, Rutherford; Molloy, Keegan.  Subs:  O'Connor for Murphy (half-time), M Quigley for Keegan (61).  Booked:  C Foley (56).

Referee:  D Hancock (Dublin)