Town 2 – Beragh Swifts 1 (AET). Ryan Hanna was the talk of the Town as his late, late double secured a ninth Mulhern Cup triumph for Enniskillen Town United in the most dramatic of circumstances at Drumad on Friday night last.
Indeed, the Blue-Riband event in the local soccer calendar is now in fast danger of becoming the Sky Blue-Riband event as the victory marked an historic three in a row for Town. Town become the first team to achieve such a feat since Enniskillen Rangers secured the third of their four consecutive Crowns in 1958. They also become the fourth club to have done so, following on from R.A.F. Castle Arcdale 1948-1950 and Fivemiletown United 1951-1953 and Rangers.
The win also marks the most notable three in a row associated with the club, since the mythical “Paddy Stapletons” achieved their magical and, yet unmatched, trio of Town Quizzes – 1998-2000. Unsurprisingly, current Town Boss and all-round alchemist, Rory Judge, was also central to that triumph!
And central to Town’s magical trio, has been the aforementioned Hanna, whose superb achievement of scoring in three consecutive finals must surely rank as a record? The fact that he is a midfield player only adds to its brilliance. It also ignites the debate as to who exactly is “Mr Mulhern Cup”? Ryan Hanna, or, Stephen Chambers, who made a telling contribution off the bench to secure his fourth consecutive Winner’s Medal!
And not forgetting a Beragh Swifts side whose tactical formation, resolute determination, disciplined defending, and “game management” plan came within a whisker of landing the village their first piece of major silverware. They couldn’t have done any more – well apart from read the Official Match Programme – “Ryan Hanna – The beard to be feared. Ryan aims to score in his third
consecutive Mulhern Cup Final tonight.” Prophetic Words.
In his forty-four year love affair with the club, Town’s Majordomo, Gerry Connolly, in his thousands of testimonials, has become synonymous with the phrase, “Town’s indomitable spirit.” Never was it more in evidence, than at Drumad on Friday night. Perhaps it was written in the stars. Ryan Hanna’s ninety-fourth minute equaliser was nearly twenty years to the night (11th May 1994) of Town’s historic and never to be forgotten Irish Junior Cup victory of 1994. Another success that was built on two late, late goals that subsequently paved the way for two glory filled decades!
Anyhow, enough backslapping and eulogising. There was also a game of football played. Beragh, under the tutelage of former Town Coffey Cup winner, Keith “Hammy” Hamilton and, appearing in their first Mulhern Cup were, as expected, first out of the traps. An early Swifts attack saw Darren McQuade at his best to divert for a corner, while a combination of Nicky Dunbar and Pat Cadden was required to snuff out a dangerous Michael Brown centre.
Town responded with a Matthew McAuley header that drifted wide following on from some good approach play from Gary Lynch and a trademark Conor Tummon cross. A frenetic opening, the lead goal arrived on seventeen minutes. A Mark Adams corner found Michael Brown one of three players unmarked at the back post. He smashed a terrific volley to put Beragh one to the good and, essentially, secure the “Mulhern” for Town. For those of you scratching your heads, (Michael Brown included I’m sure), the prolific Brown holds the unwanted distinction of appearing on the losing side every time he has scored against Town. He wasn’t even on the pitch for Beragh’s well merited 3-2 League victory over Town earlier on in the season!
Unruffled, Town carved out a number of good openings. McAuley won a crunching tackle before releasing Lynch. Swifts ‘keeper Johny Crawford pulled off a terrific save from his close range pile driver. Crawford was again called into action saving at close quarters from McAuley following a Frank Wallace cross, before Colin Adams played a captain’s role, denying Lynch with a last gasp intervention. A sublime Dunbar delivery was just too quick for Wallace as Town continued to ask the questions. Stephen Clarke showed superb close control in taking a Wallace cross on his chest and firing a venomous volley that tested Crawford. Richard Anderson’s headed back pass looked as if it might fall short. Lynch just failed to intercept as the first half drew to a close.
Fifty-one minutes and Rory Judge and Emmet Carty played their first big card with the infirm but, still incomparable, Gary Beckett, replacing Lynch. Within a minute, Wallace embarked on a mazy run that ended with his effort being deflected wide. A McAuley header went close from the resultant corner. Another Town corner saw Wallace work an opening with Clarke before taking the return pass and testing Crawford.
In a real clash of styles, Beragh were more than happy to soak up any Town pressure before utilising the pace and trickery of Stephen Browne on the break. One such attack saw Browne outfox Matthew Chambers and fire a dangerous centre that had McQuade at full stretch. Two minutes later and Pat Cadden had to be quick off his line to deny the lively Browne as he outpaced the Town defence and bore down on goal.
Sensing the aggrandisement of the situation, Judge and Carty introduced Town’s Mulhern Cup saviour, Adam Breen, on seventy minutes. A ball broke to Wallace on the six yard box but again Crawford was equal to him. Dunbar was then at his best to deny veteran Andy McFarland with a well-timed tackle as the clock continued to tick.
Town monopolised possession without being clear-cut. To say that their final ball let them down is probably slightly harsh on Town and certainly harsh on a superb Swifts rearguard action. It may not have been pleasing to the neutral but it certainly had the desired effect and it came perilously close to spoiling the party. Eighty-two minutes and a long, lofted Cadden free found McAuley with time and space in the area. His poor effort was easily gathered by Crawford. Another Stephen Browne break again called on McQuade before the late, late drama ensued.
With the game entering the ninety-fourth minute and the large Beragh support whistling loudly, some rare defensive indiscipline resulted in a reckless foul on Beckett. His quick free was swept out to Wallace whose looping cross was met at the back post by the stooped head of Ryan Hanna (who up until that point had been absolutely f**king cat) for one apiece and wild scenes of unbridled joy.
If a shell-shocked Swifts hadn’t read the script, then they certainly didn’t follow what was effectively an action replay in the eighth minute of extra-time. Beckett’s intuitive back-heel sent Wallace scuttling down the left and his cross was again met by Hanna to power his header across a despairing Crawford and effectively write himself into Town folklore.
Beragh, to their credit, did rally with Town’s “lucky charm” Michael Brown (well he certainly ain’t Leeds United’s!) and his near namesake Stephen Browne inevitably leading the charge. One or two questionable off-side decisions and a Town defence in which Dunbar and McQuade walked tall was to prove their undoing. As is always the case in these scenarios, they did have one final opportunity. Jason Armstrong’s free kick found Colin Adams lurking with intent but his header was wide off the post as Town stood firm to prove that three (or is it ninety-four?) is a magic number!
Whose that coming over the hill? It’s Ryan Hanna…
The Town: P Cadden, M Chambers, C Tummon, N Dunbar, D McQuade, P Crane, R Hanna, M McAuley, G Lynch, S Clarke, F Wallace.
Subs – G Beckett for Lynch (51), The Artist Formerly Known As Russell Wheeler’s Cub for Clarke (70), S Chambers for M Chambers (80).
Following on from Paul McGrath and Craig Johnstone’s appearances for Lisbellaw United earlier on in the campaign, the Fermanagh and Western Football League continues its 1970’s North American Soccer League type revival. Tonight saw Michael Brown line out for Beragh, Gary Doherty on the Town bench and former Republic of Ireland defender Gary Breen in the “Number Two” role for Swifts. We all dream of a team of Gary Breens…
Referee: Dessie Kerr – A generally good performance from the “Referee of The Year,” nominee. He was, however, on occasion, let down by his linesmen, some of whose decisions were arguably more ridiculous than that of the Fermanagh and Western Football Association to put £7 on the gate.
Kerr has since come in for a bit of flak, mainly on Social Media. As late and, as heartbreaking, as Ryan Hanna’s equaliser may have been, it was scored in the ninety-fourth minute. The unfortunate clash between Richard Anderson and Paul Kelly that resulted in both players having to leave the field incurred a stoppage of at least five minutes. Add to this the other substitutions that were made plus Swifts’ “game management” plan and Kerr would have been well within his rights to add anything up to nine minutes of additional time. A lot of the comment has no doubt been sparked by Keith Hamilton’s slightly mischievous attempt at mind games in the run up to the final in which he rued the fact that the referee was an “Enniskillen man.” For those uninformed, or, from a younger generation, (of which “Hammy” is neither), Dessie Kerr was and, I’m sure always will be, an Enniskillen Ranger!
Attendance: “Some crowd hi” – Malcolm Branley.
Top Townie: Nicky Dunbar – Absolutely immense.
Comedy Moment: One highly respected and senior “analyst’s” assessment of Matthew McAuley’s extremely weak, eighty-second minute effort – “You could have hit it harder with a walking stick.”
“So You Did Son Moment”: Despite numerous telephone calls, text messages, the threat of an online voting camapaign and even a letter from Ballybunion, I have resisted the temptation to award this to Emmet Carty’s unforgettable, extra-time dash and volleyed banana clearance. My head will rule my heart and the award, deservedly and unsurprisingly goes to Ryan Hanna for his late, late intervention. He had up until that point endured a disappointing game. However, the mark of any truly great player is the ability to score vital goals and over the years, Hanna has done this in abundance. His magnificent feat of scoring in three consecutive finals can now surely be mentioned in the same breath as Rory Judge’s two Junior Cup winners or Ronan McCabe’s never to be forgotten strike in Killen. The fact that Ryan has spent his entire life a “Town man” and that his family have been indelibly linked to the very fabric of the club makes it all the sweeter.
“So You Did Son Moment – The People’s Champion”: Emmet Carty.
Words from a Song: I Am The Resurrection.
Manager Watch: King Midas.
Is it Really The End?? Prior to the game, rumours started to circulate of the imminent retirement of Gary Beckett after thirty star spangled years. An emotional Beckett unofficially confirmed this in the immediate aftermath of Dessie Kerr’s final whistle. Within an hour, the story had started trending as “The Greatest” announced his retirement from the game on his official Facebook account.
The full text read as follows:
“We never win anything easy do we, what a comeback feels great to have landed Mulhern Cup number 3, what a lovely way to end my time as a footballer, as they say stick a fork in me I’m done!! lol thanks to all clubs I represented especially Derry and my home team ETUFC.”
This season has seen Beckett struggle for fitness and, at times, form, as he made his return from a long-standing knee problem in Spring. At the time of writing, I am not prepared to write his epitaph. A period of rest, a good pre-season and possibly, a redeployed role, would still see the great man with plenty to offer as Town’s talisman. I REFUSE TO ACCEPT HIS RESIGNATION. There is one final chapter still to be written…