Carlow & District Juveniles League 1-3 Cork Schoolboys League.
On a bright, sunny, but bitterly cold afternoon, Carlow met Cork in this much anticipated Semi-Final to see who would progress to the Final of this prestigious competition.
Cork started with the advantage of the strong wind, although, it was Carlow who created the first pressure, as a fine run by Jamie Fitzgerald, was halted by a foul and his deep free-kick was cleared by the Cork defence.
Cork were playing confidently and they came closest when the tricky Leon Hennessy got through on to a cross from Godfrey Elue, but was crowded out by Carlow defence.
Adam McCarron put a good ball out to Eamon Lalor but his cross was well saved by Ben O’Leary in Cork’s goal.
Cork forced a succession of corners, as they utilised the windy conditions to the full and a last-ditch tackle by Jamie Fitzgerald, halted Cian O’Flaherty in his tracks, when he looked certain to get through on the Carlow goal.
Carlow started to work their way into the game, with Jack Byrne and Jack O’Neill working well together, in the ‘hot-bed’ of midfield, as both sides were looking to dominate.
Brandon Kelly had a couple of fine runs from around half-way, but the Cork defence crowded him out, before he could do them any damage, as Carlow continued to work their way into the game.
The Cork front three were creating plenty of problems for the Carlow defenders, with Cian O’Flaherty working tirelessly, to prompt Leon Hennessy and Lee Obi Kelly – Cork’s wide attackers, who were proving to be a constant threat to Carlow.
A free-kick taken by Hennessey found David Connolly, who headed just over the Carlow bar, unchallenged and then shortly after, Cork had a further corner that bobbled about in the area, before being cleared.
Fifteen minutes in, Cork broke the deadlock, when they won a free-kick wide right and from fully 35 yards, Ryan McCarthy swung the ball into the six yard box, where Ben Goodwin was deceived by a bad bobble off a divot and the ball ended up in the Carlow net for 0-1.
Brandon Kelly another great run and cross into Myles Hutton, but David Connolly was forced to concede a corner, which was eventually cleared.
Lee Obi Kelly made a great 30 yard individual run, with the ball only being partially cleared and it was picked up by Adam McCarthy, who shot just over the bar from 25 yards, with Ben Goodwin well beaten, in what was a really ‘close shave’ for Carlow.
Carlow were now pressing hard and a low shot by Oscar Brennan tested Ben O’Leary in Cork’s goal and then it was back down the other end, where Brandon Kelly ‘tracked back’ and stopped Lee Obi Kelly, who was proving to be a ‘thorn in Carlow’s side’.
On 33 minutes, Leon Hennessy picked up a loose ball in left midfield and hit a long ambitious ball deep into the Carlow half and it was a race between Jamie Fitzgerald and Lee Obi Kelly and it was Kelly who won the tussle, who then went on to roll the ball under the on-rushing Ben Goodwin, to make it 0-2 to Cork.
Cork played out the remainder of the half as the interval came with no further score.
Cork started the second-half as they finished the first, playing good neat football and Carlow, who had made a couple of substitutions, were working hard to get back into the game, although the strong wind, had died down, which was a disadvantage to Carlow.
Adam McCarron made a good break from out of defence and played a good ball to Brandon Kelly, who was brought down and from the resultant free-kick, Ben O’Leary made a good save.
Substitute John Ryan was making his presence felt in midfield, as he won the ball and ran at Cork for 15 yards, but then over-hit his pass to the on-rushing Oscar Brennan and the ball went through to the Cork keeper.
There was more good play from Fionn McCaffrey and John Ryan, as with the inclusion of Ryan, Carlow were beginning to dominate mid-field, along with Jack Byrne and Eamon Lalor, with Cork being ‘rocked back on their heels.’
Carlow won a free-kick, on the edge of the area and John Ryan hit a ‘thunderbolt’ that Ben O’Leary partially saved, with Brandon Kelly getting on to the rebound that was touched on to the bar by Ben O’Leary and out for a corner, in what was ‘a match winning double save’.
The tempo of the game really rose, as both teams realised that this was a key part of the game and there was some ferocious, but fair tackling, all over the pitch, which was no surprise, bearing in mind what was at stake.
Fifteen minutes in – John Ryan picked up a loose ball in midfield, advanced and from fully 25 yards fired in a shot that deceived Ben O’Leary in goal, to put Carlow in with a chance at 1-2.
Play was ‘end to end’ in this pulsating game as both sides ‘gave it their all’, however, it was Cork, who got ‘the decider’ 21 minutes in, when Ryan McCarthy took a free-kick from out wide right and this was only partially cleared and he picked up the loose ball and curled a fine shot, with his left foot, into the far corner of the net, past the despairing dive of Ben Goodwin in Carlow’s net for a 1-3 lead.
For the last 15 minutes, it was virtually all Carlow, albeit with Cork still dangerous ‘on the break’ through Cian O’Flaherty and Leon Hennessey, with Carlow winning a number of free-kicks and corners, where they came agonisingly close to scoring.
Just before the final whistle, a long ball out of the Carlow defence, saw Cork’s Godfrey Elue, bring down Oscar Brennan, just outside the penalty area and from the free-kick, John Ryan shot high over the bar and time was up soon after.
Standing out for a disappointed Carlow Squad were Fionn McCaffrey, Jack Byrne, John Ryan and Oscar Brennan, whilst best for Cork were Leon Hennessy, Cian O’Flaherty, Conor Hanley and Lee Obi Kelly.
Both teams deserve fulsome praise for putting on a very high quality game of football and Carlow wish Cork the best of luck for the Final.