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Form points to Avenue retaining cup title

Bridge United B’s Gavin Downes also played in last year’s final. Photograph by John KellyTHE involvement of Bridge United B in the Clare Junior Soccer Cup final last year was a surprise. It is not often that a B team gets to the final of a premier competition and while they ended up losing 0-3, their march to the final was a huge achievement.
No doubt their involvement surprised many but few, if any, would have predicted they would be back in the final a year on. That is just what they achieved and this Saturday evening, they will come up against holders, Avenue United A, at the County Grounds, with kick-off at 6.45pm.
Twelve months ago, Bridge United were chasing a league and cup double as they had won the second division league title shortly before the cup final.
This year, their cup campaign has been disappointing and they go into the cup final having been relegated from the first division.
As was the case last year, Avenue will carry the favourites’ tag. They were unlucky not to win the Premier League crown, losing out to Newmarket Celtic A. Last year, they went into the cup final going for the premier double as they had won the league crown a few weeks earlier.
Avenue have been playing in the higher division, which should prove an advantage but many of the players in the Bridge United line-up have plenty of experience of premier division football, having been part of their club’s A team in recent seasons.
Albert Finnan is one of the most experienced players in the Clare League, having played League of Ireland football with Limerick. During his time there, the former youth international won first division league honours and a Munster Senior Cup title.
Avenue are brimming with experience, with most of their players having played for the county side. Johnnie Healy, David Russell, Mattie Nugent, Eamonn O’Reilly, Pa Wilson and David McCarthy have all been prominent in the campaign, while their squad also includes Mark Roche, David and Colin Smith and Dylan Casey.
The Bridge club has won the cup on three occasions, all when it was known as the Haughey Cup. In 1972, they defeated Gardisette 2-1, they beat Newmarket on penalties in 1977 after the teams had drawn 1-1 and they beat Kilrush Rangers in 1984 on a 2-1 scoreline.
It is the third year in-a-row that a B team has come through to play in the cup final. In 2009, Lifford B went down 3-2 to Rineanna Rovers.
Avenue look to have the better-balanced side and this should see them retain the crown.
Weather conditions were ideal for last year’s final. The writing was on the wall for Bridge from as early as the fourth minute when Avenue hit the opener. David Smith’s free from the right touchline caused problems for the Bridge defence and Avenue captain David Russell, later named as the man of the match, slipped in at the back post to volley to the net.
Half an hour into the game, the Bridge defence conceded a soft goal, which left them with a mountain to climb. For the remainder of the half, Bridge United created the better chances but a strong Avenue defence always held the upper hand.
On the resumption, the Bridge went in search of a goal but the winners’ defence continued to dominate. Thirteen minutes into the half, Avenue struck for their third and this was, by far, the best goal of the game.
Barry Nugent put David Herlihy clear down the right wing and when Herlihy’s excellent cross came in, Adrian McDonagh was on hand to send a powerful header to the net for his second goal.
The teams in last year’s final were:

Avenue United: John Healy; Simon Cuddy, Eamonn O’Reilly, Mattie Nugent, David Russell; Gary Flynn, Pa Wilson, David Herlihy, Barry Nugent, Adrian McDonagh, David Smith.
Subs: Paul Crowley for O’Reilly, Dave McCarthy for Flynn and Mikey Mahoney for McDonagh.
Bridge United B: Barry Deasy; Jonathon Hayes, Kevin Meehan, Albert Finnan, Dominic Murphy; Paul Fitzpatrick, Tadhg Keogh, Barry Downes, Trevor Kearney, Chris Lake, Brendan Murphy.
Subs: Gavin Downes for Murphy, Geoffrey Flynn for B Downes and Michael White for Lake.

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