THE changing of the guard was completed this evening (Wednesday) when captain Dylan Casey’s dramatic 77th minute equaliser clinched a famous league and cup double from the grasp of holders Newmarket Celtic on home soil, writes Eoin Brennan.
In what was a great advertisement for Clare soccer, four days on from Avenue’s 2-1 Cup Final victory over Celtic, a large crowd were in attendance once more to witness the ultimate Premier Division showdown.
Tension was commonplace, especially for the home side after being dealt an early hammerblow when Newmarket stalwart Stephen Kelly headed home a David McCarthy corner only three minutes into the tie.
With nothing but a victory sufficient for Newmarket to retain their crown, it took time and more significantly patience for the hosts to eventually turn the tide and ultimately wear down their experienced opponents.
Needing a response to Saturday’s lacklustre final display, Newmarket came out firing and following Kelly’s early goal, the mazy running of Eoin Hayes carved out two further chances, the first of which had to be stopped by advancing goalkeeper James Tierney to prevent any additional damage.
An Elias Kunz header that drifted wide of the target in the 14th minute was Avenue’s only real scoring chance in the opening quarter as the concession of that early goal appeared to unsettle them somewhat.
The home side did get better as the half developed though with Conor Hehir and Mark Roche increasingly causing headaches down the left flank while Alan Roche was typically industrious in the heart of the midfield engine room.
Dylan Casey had a snap shot saved while in injury-time a teasing Philip Talty centre flashed crossed the face of goal but no Avenue player had gambled on its arrival as they had to settle for a 1-0 half-time deficit.
Already without Paddy Purcell, Darren Cullinan and Colin Smyth, Newmarket had little experience on the bench to freshen up their challenge whereas Avenue, despite fielding an unchanged side from Saturday’s cup final, continued to grow in stature as the second half unfolded.
A brace of early yellow cards indicated Newmarket’s mounting fatigue while a penalty claim for a perceived clip on Philip Talty’s angle was duly waved away in the 52nd minute.
Newmarket did create two glorious counter-attacks near the hour mark but first a David McCarthy shot was saved by Tierney before Gearoid O’Brien’s surging run from his own half could only find the sidenetting in the 67th minute.
With the clock inexorably ticking down, Avenue continued to probe but aside from a scrambled effort from substitute Mossy Hehir, it had to take until the 77th minute to finally make the breakthrough. It stemmed from a Steve Jordan short corner to Cullen McCabe for a cross that was only cleared as far as Dylan Casey who struck a powerful effort to the net from the edge of the box.
With the Premier Division pendulum swinging back towards the hosts, it was now Newmarket’s turn to chase down a winner but frustratingly for the holders, a Stephen Kelly header went wide while Eoin Hayes’ opportunist shot on the turn was saved at full stretch by goalkeeper Tierney.
There was still plenty of time though as five minutes of additional time and what seemed like a near double figure of Newmarket throws dominated the final frantic minutes.
They ultimately yielded nothing though as a defiant Avenue weren’t about to let slip this glorious opportunity at re-establishing themselves as the kingpins of Clare for the first time since 2010.
Avenue Utd: James Tierney, Cullen McCabe, Conor Hehir, Conor Mullen, Dylan Casey, Alan Roche, Mark Roche, Eoghan Thynne, Philip Talty (Mossy Hehir, 57), Elias Kunz, Steve Jordan (Jamie Roche, 90)
Newmarket Celtic: Shane Cusack, David O’Grady (Pa McDaid, 66 inj) (Cáel Gaffney, 88 inj), Conor McDaid, Stephen Kelly, Eoin Kelly, Cathal Hayes (Davy Lennon, 83), Kevin Harnett, David McCarthy, Daithi O’Connell (Ronan McCormack, 61), Eoin Hayes, Gearoid O’Brien