The Mercer Cup will be returning to Tyrone following an eleven year absence, after Strathroy Harps one- nil victory over Enniskillen Town United, effectively confirmed their place as Champions, on Pitch 1 at the Omagh Leisure Centre on Saturday last. Town could have little, if any, complaints.
They were mainly dominated by a Strathroy outfit that had Town at sixes and sevens, as they cut through them at will for large periods of the game. Tormentor in chief was young striker Ryan Mayse, who gave the best individual display that this “author” has witnessed in a long, long time. He was a handful. In fact, he was much, much more than a handful. So much so, that he made a complete mockery of the commonly perceived wisdom that, “Anything more than a handful is a waste!”
He was also ably assisted by our old friend, Aidy McCaffrey, who revelled in the “number ten” role.
Town will argue, with justification, that they did create a number of clear cut opportunities for the all important equaliser but the reality is that they could quite easily have been six-nil down before the first one arose. It must also be said that Town simply did not do enough when Strathroy engaged in the somewhat risky (and certainly unwise considering the extent of their attacking prowess) game of protecting their lead.
Just five minutes on the clock when young Mayse had the ball in the Town net. His effort was ruled out for offside. It was the correct call, albeit a late one. A long ball from defence saw Pat Cadden make the first of a number of top-drawer saves from McCaffrey while he was also at full stretch to divert a Mayse cross that deflected off the knee of Nicky Dunbar. Another direct ball saw Mayse leave the Town defence for dead but denied by another superb Cadden save. He made no such mistake from an identical situation less than a minute later. Mayse again outpaced the Town rearguard before firing his effort into the bottom right hand corner of the Town net. Twenty-one minutes had elapsed.
Town responded with a number of half-chances. Frank Wallace was smothered by the home defence after Conor Tummon had sent him clear, an ambitious Gary Beckett lob landed on the roof of the net and Matthew McAuley failed to reach a Beckett through ball. Real danger again on the half hour mark. Dunbar lost his footing allowing Benny McElholm a sight of goal. His shot trickled right across the goal line before hitting the base of the post. Speaking of McElholm, he was one of four “Gingers” in the home line up. Add player-manager Seamus Fanthorpe into the mix and we have five. An inordinate amount of “Copperknobs” by any man’s reckoning! Rumour has it that the late Jimmy Johnstone “enjoyed” a brief period of employment in the dairies when his playing career with Celtic finished!
Mayse was soon at it again. He skipped through the Town defence and fired in a cross that invited only the faintest of touches. Thankfully for Town, it didn’t arrive. Stephen Chambers shot wide after a one-two with Wallace before Town’s first real opportunity arrived after thirty-nine minutes. Darren McQuade won a strong header, Beckett played in Wallace, Chris Catterson made the save. It was brief respite. Mayse showed delightful skill in taking another probing ball down on his chest but was denied by a perfectly timed Tummon tackle. He then went close following an interchange with the lively McCaffrey. The half ended with “Take Two.” Beckett again playing Wallace one on one, Catterson again making the save.
A big, big moment just sixty seconds after the break. McAuley showed good strength before digging out a cross for the arriving Tummon. He steered his close range volley agonisingly wide. McCaffrey then went close to doubling the advantage with a mazy run and shot that cleared Cadden’s crossbar. It was to be the host’s last chance of any note, with The Milkmen now content to sit back and invite Town on to them.
It was a dangerous tactic but ultimately, an effective one, as a laboured Town outfit huffed and puffed but didn’t blow Harps house down. A Wallace effort was deflected for a corner after he turned and shot while Ryan Hanna headed weakly from a Tummon cross. A deft Beckett touch found substitute Stephen Clarke. His effort went wide after a hefty Catterson challenge on the edge of the area.
With thirteen minutes remaining, Town boss Rory Judge introduced Gary Lynch and went three at the back in a desperate last throw off the dice. We didn’t even need a six. One would have done fine. Unfortunately it never arrived. There was one last big moment on eighty-six minutes. Tummon delivered a wonderful free kick into a crowded box. McAuley’s flicked header beat Catterson but not the bar as Town’s Title hopes went up in smoke.
They didn’t deserve it.
The Town: P Cadden, M Chambers, C Tummon, N Dunbar, D McQuade, P Crane, R Hanna, M McAuley, G Beckett, S Chambers, F Wallace.
Subs – Russell Wheeler’s Cub for S Chambers (58), S Clarke for R Hanna (62), G Lynch for M Chambers (77).
Referee: Dessie Kerr – Great performance.
Attendance: Bumper Attendance – Big crowd up from the Town.
Top Townie: Pat Cadden – The proverbial “boy with his finger in the dam,” in a first half performance that was Jan Tomaszewski, Jim Montgomery and Packie Bonner rolled into one.
Comedy Moment: The sheer looks of disbelief and audible gasps of astonishment from the Tummery contingent when they were informed that Town substitute Gary Lynch wasn’t a “wee young boy” but in fact…erm…twenty-seven years old. Don’t try and get served in The Boe Inn any time soon, son!
“So You Did Son Moment”: Conor Tummon’s wonderfully flighted, pinpoint, eighty-sixth minute free kick was reminiscent of Town Great, Barry “Ossie” Corrigan at his mercurial best. Did he ever have a bad delivery?
Words from a Song: You Gotta Fight For Your Right To Party! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eBShN8qT4lk
Manager Watch: No stranger to pre-match gaffes, Rory’s public pronouncement that “it’s really about who has the better players on the day, and I think we do,” was soon on a par with Ally McLeod’s infamous assertion that Scotland would win the 1978 World Cup! He was made to look foolish in the extreme, as Town were carved open at will, in a chastening first forty-five minutes. And it was these same players who so badly let him down. Of the fourteen who tasted action on Saturday, less than half could genuinely claim to have left Omagh with their reputations intact. At no stage did the penny drop, that they were up against the double Irish Junior Cup Champions?
A tough, uncompromising (and classy) centre-half in an illustrious playing career, Judge must have cringed with embarrassment at the niceness displayed by his defence (and I don’t restrict that comment to the back four only) as time and time again the Strathroy attack cut through them like ribbons. Now I certainly don’t come from the “break his legs” brigade and I’m not even advocating foul play, but the least you would expect in a game of this magnitude is that a player will put in some good, honest, hard tackles and let the opposition know that there will be nothing easy. Some of the Town players just stopped short of offering to buy their opponents a drink!
A largely ineffective attack also allowed the Strathroy central defensive partnership to “lord it” for most of the game. The engine room, as it has been for a long time, was crying out for somebody to put his foot on the ball, pick a pass and start dictating the pace of the game. They are plenty of contenders for this role in games against Shelbourne, Dergview Reserves, Orangefield Old Boys and the like. The unfortunate reality for Town is that we don’t play teams of this ilk twenty-two times a season. Midfield General urgently required! Interested parties, apply within.