Ennis Town are just one game away from becoming the first Clare team to secure a provincial title as they face Cork side Midleton FC in the Munster U19 Cup final this Friday.
Tony Downey, who is in charge of both the U19 and senior squads within the club, is aware that this would represent a huge achievement for Ennis Town to win in their first ever Munster final appearance while he believes it would also be a huge boost for soccer within the county.
“We have so much to play for. Avenue have reached the FAI Cup final before while Newmarket have gone deep in competitions before but this would be a big achievement for the club. It would be huge for Clare soccer if we were to win.”
“I think Clare soccer is improving every year. For nearly every team it’s about the retention of players and advertising the game to the players so we hope we can play our part on Friday.”
With this side having won the U16 league together while competing the domestic double at U17 level, Downey was hopeful that this group could challenge for silverware at the U19 grade.
The club have resorted to their young talent throughout the season with Jashar Aliu, Dean Hegarty, Johnson Monunkum and Thomas Collins just some of the underage players that have frequently lined out in the adult grade.
It has been a long season for this talented bunch of players as they have been competing at adult level in the league and cup competitions at adult and U19 level.
With such a gruelling schedule, injuries have taken their toll this season with Johnson Monunkum ruled out of the final with a cruciate injury although Thomas Collins is back in the mix. The Clare U20 football goalkeeper is set to feature after suffering a dislocated knee.
Ennis Town still have an U19 Clare Cup semi final and potentially a final with the players having started pre season training last July. After almost 11 months of training and games have led to Turner’s Cross.
“It has been a long season. To have the 19s with the seniors and both leagues, while we’ve had runs in the Munster and FAI (Junior Cups). We’ve had about 10 games in those two competitions alone.”
“We gave a good account of ourselves in those cup competitions. We lost 4-3 to Avondale in the Munster Last 32, in a game we should have won. We’ve shown good form this season. Injuries have come too from all the games we’ve played.”
Despite the high volume of games, Downey can still pinpoint the moment during the season where he first realised that his side could achieve something unique this season.
With Ennis Town hosting Limerick’s Rathkeale AFC in the third round of the FAI Junior Cup, few if any gave the Clare side a chance of progressing. However, they produced some scintillating play as they surged 3-0 clear with Aliu and Hegarty among the scorers.
Despite the Desmond League side pulling two goals back, an Ennis Town side heavily populated with U19 players managed to hold on. Downey believes this was a key moment in the season.
“I first realised we had a good chance to do something this season in the game against Rathkeale in the men’s senior FAI (Cup). We had most of our U19 squad involved that day and although we went 3-0 up, we knew they would come back but we still held on. I knew we had a very good chance to achieve something this season after managing to get that result.”
The Ennis side have certainly earned their passage to Friday’s decider as they have beaten some heavy hitters en route. A 4-3 win over eventual league champions Shannon Town in the Last 16 was followed by a 4-1 triumph against an in-form Rockmount AFC.
Then in the final four, they came up against a Tramore FC side who were favourites to win the competition outright. The Waterford outfit had knocked out a fancied Villa FC side in the quarter finals and had taken the mantle of favourites forward to their clash with Ennis Town.
However, Ennis Town travelled down to Waterford as their passing game proved too much for their opponent’s to handle. Downey’s side managed to build a 5-2 as Joe Campbell fired in a brace with Michael Mongans, Dean Hegarty and Robbie Gormley all finding the net.
Tramore managed to pull goals back in the 88th and 92nd minute but Ennis Town held on for an historic win.
Downey believes his side’s rich scoring form in this competition has ensure that confidence is high in the camp ahead of the decider.
“Our preparations are going very well. In our last three game in this competition we’ve scored at least four goals. We went to Ozier Park and beat the odds on favourites. Our strikers are in scoring form so we’re in good shape.”
“We did lose our league semi final against Tulla two or three days after the Tramore game. That game took a lot out of us and we were flat footed. Tulla are a great side anyway but we found the turnaround tough.
“Our three strikers (Joe Campbell, Robbie Gormley and Michael Mongans) are in top form so we are happy with where we are.”
With Tulla United in the other semi final, there was the possibility of an all Clare final. However, they suffered a narrow 1-0 defeat to Friday’s opponents Midleton FC.
Downey has done his research on the Cork outfit as he believes they offer a different threat to a Tramore side that looked to keep the ball on the deck.
“We’ve watched Midleton in their previous three games. We saw them against St Mary’s and Cork Corinthians in their league. They are a stronger and more physical team than Tramore. They are a different kettle of fish.”
“They like to play long, high ball and are very dangerous from set pieces. Their two centre backs, one is about 6’5 and the other is about 6’2. They are like a Newmarket side in that they are very good at converting set pieces. We have struggled with physicality at times this season so we are aware of the challenges we face.”
The Ennis Town manager, who is joined by Denis Collins, Liam Kelly, Declan Cassidy and Cillian Cassidy in the management team, believes Turner’s Cross will suit Ennis Town as they seek to enforce their passing game.
“We believe the pitch suits us more than them. We want to keep the ball on the ground and play the ball through the gaps. Our aim is to get our three strikers running on to the ball and to keep them on the back foot.”
Downey knows that with soccer lovers from across the country keeping their eye on these top sides going head to head, managing the nerves associated with a final will play a big part in deciding who will reign supreme.
“Everyone knows Tramore were the odds on favourites having beaten Villa. There should be a good crowd there so for us it’s about trying to be calm on the day.
“We need to watch the nerves. We have so much to play for but we need to stay focused and play what’s in front of us.”
Munster U19s Cup Final
Ennis Town v Midleton FC, Turners Cross Cork, 7.30pm