‘From the Sideline’: Combined Counties Cup Final

‘From the Sideline’: Combined Counties Cup Final

John Farrell Combined Counties Cup Final

Salmon brace sees Towerhill leap into Cup pantheon

Towerhill Rovers (Jo Jo Salmon x 2 19′, 22′) Birr Town 0

Towerhill Rovers sit atop the summit of Midland’s Soccer tonight. Things like this do not ever happen to clubs that are just eight seasons old. It’s like Cinderella just tossed aside that glass slipper and pulled on a pair of size nines instead. The odds were stacked against the Portlaoise outfit from the start. No sooner had they booked their final berth last Sunday than the Rovers had to face Mountmellick United in the final league encounter of the 2019/2020 season last Wednesday. If three games in a week weren’t enough to deal with Rovers also had to face into the challenge of newly-crowned Senior Division champions Birr Town. And if that hadn’t been enough to cope with Towerhill’s playmaker and passing metronome Paul Sutton pulled up injured during the pre-game warm-up. So the odds were very much stacked against the Laois side.

The opening five minutes of the encounter confirmed the worst fears of even the most diehard Towerhill supporter.  Birr pressed Towerhill high up the park and their playmaker Craig Shortt was getting on way too much ball for Towerhill’s comfort. That rocky start was soon overcome by a Rovers side however. Once the Laois outfit found their rhythm they pushed Birr back. Indeed Rovers’ striker Hayden Delaney got onto the end of two quickfire chances but the tame efforts didn’t trouble Birr custodian Conor Hogan.

That Towerhill momentum was soon turned into a goal however. A sublime ball in from James Furlong out on the right wing was expertly drilled home with venom by Jo Jo Salmon. Hogan in the opposition goals hadn’t a prayer of getting to it. Hogan’s grief was soon doubled as Salmon nicked in ahead of the Offaly side’s keeper to get his studs on a sublime through ball and double Rovers’ advantage.  Two goals inside two minutes had the Towerhill faithful beginning to believe that this day, of all days, would be theirs.

What little attacking Birr did soon after was expertly dealt with by a defence that was expertly marshalled by the imperious Jack Fennell. Birr’s sporadic forays forward were broken up again and again by the dynamic Paddy Downey. What raids got past the Towerhill rearguard saw the other Downey brother Richard equal to. Towerhill were now stifling Birr’s attacking threat however. The Birr dangerman Shortt had to drop deeper and deeper to get on the ball which is exactly what the Rovers’ management team of PJ Garland and Paul Culleton would have wanted before kick off. Both Luke O’ Brien and Martin Hilliard marshalled midfield magnificently in this period. Indeed it was Hilliard who ended the opening half with a snap shot that brought a good save out of Hogan.

The second half started ominously for the Laois outfit however. Birr began to play through the lines with more fluency against a clearly tiring Rovers’ midfield. Indeed, the strain of playing three games in a week was beginning to show. Richard Downey was called into action again and again as Birr made headway up front. The Rovers’ defence was magnificent in this period however as the ball was coming back at them with alarming regularity. Towerhill had to survive on a meagre diet of very sporadic counter-attacks as Birr seemed destined to open their account. James Furlong, Aidan McGovern and Luke O’ Brien all shone at the back under the inspired direction of Jack Fennell however. Again and again Birr seemed destined to score but somehow Downey and his backline kept them at bay.

Pinging in both diagonal and through balls Birr edged Towerhill back and the Laois side were guilty of dropping too deep on occasion. Then Offaly men were convinced their luck had changed but Shortt’s marvellous free was somehow pushed around the post by the towering Downey in goals. Relief for the Laois men and more anquish for their Offaly neighbours ensued as, try as they might, Birr couldn’t unlock the Towerhill defence. A great defensive header from Mark Brennan just as Birr seemed certain to score deflated the Senior Division side even further. On the odd occasion Birr raced through on goal Rovers’ offside trap clanged into place. Furlong then flung himself despairingly and somehow nicked away another dangerous Birr incursion. Heroes one and all and try as they might Birr could not break down the heroic defending of Towerhill’s rearguard.

For the Cup champions Paddy Downey and Martin Hilliard shone in midfield until the last quarter when exhaustion set in. Up front Jo Jo Salmon nicked his two goals inside two minutes to secure the result. On any other day Salmon would have been voted ‘MOTM’ but not today. Why? Well Towerhill’s defence came to the rescue again and again in the second period. Mark Breenan, James Furlong and Aidan McGovern were inspiring at the back as was keeper Richard Downey. However the unanimous choice for ‘Man of the Match’ was Jack Fennell who was assured and controlled at the back and led by example throughout.

Towerhill Rovers Squad: Richard Downey, James Furling, Mark Brennan, Jack Fennell, Aidan McGovern, Luke O’ Brien, Nathan Carpenter, Paul Sutton, Hayden Delaney, Paddy Downey, Jo Jo Salmon, Martin Hilliard, Brian McCormack, Gary Roe, Emeka Attaca, Kevin Sheehan (Capt.), Shane Brophy

Management Team: PJ Garland and Paul Culleton