Killavilla United - NT&DL Premier Division Shield winners. PHOTOS: GARY CULBERT

Killavilla and Holycross claim Shield successes

By Gary Culbert

Denis Moloney’s new-look Killavilla United outfit got their season off to a winning start with a 3-2 win over Arra Rovers in Villa Park on Saturday, to claim the pre-season Premier Division Shield title.

The soaking rain in Villa Park did not exactly suit Arra’s pacey front men, in truth both sides struggled to adapt to the minimal weight that was needed on the through balls, which were more often than not destined for the wing backs that each manager deployed.

Denis Moloney once again packed his midfield with bundles of energy in the form of young Mark Dwyer and Ruairi Murphy, whilst the midfield three was anchored by Richard Fairbrother, who’s composure in his holding role complemented the eager running of his young teammates.

The debut double-winning manager deployed a target man and a false nine up top, who’s remit is to get the very best out of the advancing midfield two and the wing backs. Paul Kirwan is the ball to feet man that Murphy and Dwyer can bounce off, whilst Brian Moloney is the conductor who drops into the half spaces before teasing through balls to Fionn Ryan and Eddie Simmons.

Arra’s strikers could not make the ball stick in a sloppy opening twenty minutes which saw Villa dominate possession. The introduction of Ruadhan Mulrooney helped the Portroe men find their feet, but it was Villa who should have taken the lead through veteran goal machine Paul Kirwan in the 20th minute.

The game then burst into life and Arra could have taken the lead; the move started with an unlikely thirty yard run from Arra centre back Aiden O’Dwyer, who evaded four tackles before slipping through Callan Cottrell, who tried to chip the keeper, but Vladislav Bodrov stood tall to deny him.

A minute later at the other end, Moloney fizzed a daisy cutter of a shot from sixteen yards just wide after Kirwan cushioned the ball down nicely for him.

Arra grew into the game but Joe Moloney and the Villa back three were clinical in the tackle, ensuring that the visitors could never get a foothold in the game.

A last-ditch tackle from Arra captain Diarmuid Boyle in the 25th minute denied Villa, but the skipper could only help the ball on its way a minute later when Brian Moloney converted his own fine performance into a deserved lead for the home side when Dylan Carroll slipped through Ruairi Murphy down the right, the midfielder hit the end line before pulling back a fine cross which the playmaker volleyed home.

Mark Dwyer was covering every blade of grass, but even by his extreme standards he was doing a lot of running in this game, and in the 39th minute he linked up well with Kirwan to win Killavilla a penalty, which Murphy confidently whipped into the bottom corner.

The home side looked home and hosed at the break and manager Denis Moloney started to make changes, one of which was the introduction of the usually ever-present Tom Ahern, who got Villa’s third goal just three minutes after his half time introduction.

To their credit, Arra never stopped fighting and they got their reward in the 70th minute when a misjudged header allowed Ruadhan Mulrooney to steal in behind the backline before applying a composed finish.

Mulrooney doubled his tally just two minutes later, this time rounding the keeper before finishing well despite the presence of a defender on the line.

The Villa starting eleven that found themselves 3-2 up was very different to the side that started the game. Arra almost pulled them into deeper waters on a couple of occasions, but the champions had the necessary experience in some testing scenarios to see out the game and secure the newly renamed ‘John Freeman Premier Division Shield’, which is dedicated to the life of service that John Freeman gave to the NT&DL in various capacities.

First Division Final

Holycross needed penalty kicks to defeat Ardcroney in the First Division Shield Final in Ardcroney last weekend.

A sensational injury time free-kick from Callum O’Connor pulled Holycross from the dead and forced a memorable penalty shootout which went the way of the Mid men, thanks to the goalkeeping heroics of Eoin Molony.

This final was largely dominated by the home side, but it was Holycross who had the better of the opening exchanges. Left winger Seanie Comerford was causing all sorts of problems in behind the Ardcroney defence, whilst player manager Jojo O’Meara was in electric form up front, but it was Aaron Ryan who had the best chance to open the scoring for the visitors. Lee Doran and Jack Daly slowly grew into the game and began to impose themselves on the Holycross midfield, which the hosts had a numerical advantage over whenever Daly dropped in from his role just behind the striker.

When Ardcroney grew into the game a pattern began to emerge as the Holycross midfield and defence would back off and set up in their defensive shape, Daly would intelligently drop away to the pocket of space just outside the box from where he could orchestrate the play.

Indeed, Glen Austin’s side took the on the 26th minute when Daly found himself in one of these pockets, and just as everyone was sure he was about to shoot, the young playmaker scooped a delightful little ball over the defensive line for his lone front man Ian McSherry, who made no mistake with a classy outside of the boot finish beneath the keeper from six yards.

Three minutes later, Lee Doran was inches away from doubling the lead when McSherry slipped him in on the right of the box, but his shot across goal did not find the net. In the 31st minute Jojo O’Meara went agonizingly close to drawing his side level, but the veteran striker cushioned over.

Holycross should and would have been 2-0 down at the break were it not for the last-ditch sliding intervention of David Manning, who stopped substitute Jamie Heffernan from latching onto a delightful ball played through by Lee Doran. Heffernan would not be denied for long, however; the striker doubled the home side’s lead five minutes into the second half from close range after Kieran Spain pulled the ball back.

A minute later, right back David Pearse almost capped off an impressive performance with a goal when he linked up with Heffernan, but the under 19 player saw his low shot from twelve yards deflect inches wide.

Ardcroney looked so comfortable that they had one if not two hands on the shield, but in the 56th minute they made the error of letting a free kick from the halfway line bounce, and in doing so gifted substitute Jack Lillis the easiest goals of his life at the back post.

A minute later things went from bad to worse for Ardcroney when the nimble Jojo O’Meara took the ball to feet in the opposition box before wriggling free of centre back Luke Dervan and snapping an early shot into the far corner which took Taylor Duffy unawares and drew the sides level.

Ardcroney will be in the conversation at the very top end of division 1 this season, but perhaps one their greatest strengths (their very young average age) might also be their greatest weakness. Indeed, it was the experience and guile of Jojo O’Meara which won a penalty off Luke Dervan in the 75th minute, but the centre-back’s blushes were spared as Taylor Duffy saved Callum O’Connor’s effort from the spot.

Ardcroney restored their lead three minutes later when Lee Doran rounded Eoin Molony following a goalkeeping error and finished off the right post from an ever-tightening angle.

Holycross piled on the pressure for the final fifteen minutes but couldn’t get the breakthrough, however, with just seconds remaining of injury time Callum O’Connor won a free kick twenty yards out in a central position. Few in attendance were aware of the free-kick prowess that O’Connor had previously demonstrated with Borroway Rovers. Needless to say he was comfortable to take on the shot from this range, curling his right footed whipped effort up and over the wall and into the postage stamp of the top right corner, thus forcing the game straight to penalties.

For Holycross, Callum O’Connor, Aaron Ryan, and Jesse Maher each sent the keeper the wrong way, whilst Jojo O’Meara scored despite a strong hand from the keeper. Shane Doran, Kieran Spain, and Lee Doran all scored for Ardcroney before Darragh Buckley saw his effort pushed onto the post. Seanie Comerford had the chance to wrap things up for Holycross, but he blazed his effort over the bar, meaning Jack Daly would force sudden death. Taylor Duffy denied Jack Lillis, meaning Jamie Heffernan had a chance to win it for Ardcroney, but Eoin Molony saved, giving Liam Ryan a chance to secure the shield a visit to the trophy cabinet in Glenbane, which he duly did.