Arra Rovers - NT&DL Under 19 League and Cup winners. Back row: Marcus O’Mahoney, Oisin Tucker, Kieran Grace, Aidan O’Dwyer, Jack O’Calliaghan, Cathal O’Brien, Sean Nightingale, Brendan Muldowney, Jack O’Brien, Mark Madden, Harry Hunt, James O’Meara, Dylan Hough. Front row: Diarmuid O’Donoughue, Ciaran Tapliss, Brian McEvoy, Luke Conneally, Keiran Leahy, Jack McGrath, Ethan Powell, Eoghan Starr.

Invincible Arra complete historic season

SOCCER: North Tipperary & District League Under 19 Cup Final

Arra Rovers 3

Lough Derg 1

Report & Photos by Gary Culbert in Ballinree

Arra Rovers the brought the curtain down on the 2022/2023 NT&DL season in style by adding the Under 19 Cup to their League title.

This final against neighbours Lough Derg was a real clash of styles, Derg favouring a more patient build-up approach, whilst Arra looked to get the ball forward as quickly as possible to their powerful lone front man, Brian McEvoy. Indeed, it was a quick ball over the top from a deep free kick that Arra took the lead from in the twelfth minute; McEvoy using his pace to beat the offside trap before finishing well one-on-one with the keeper.

The Portroe men were marginally the better team in the opening fifteen minutes, Eoin Moloney driving them on from his left midfield role.

However, Lough Derg then found their rhythm and they began to take control. Cian McAuley and Dan Fogarty beat the ragged Arra offside trap on more than one occasion only to be denied by Luke Connelly.

The Shannonsiders eventually equalised in the 22nd minute when a sublime Sam Foley pass from the right completely dissected the Arra defence, finding Cian McAuley free at the back post, who kept his cool to finish well.

Lough Derg went on to totally dominate the majority of the first half, playing some exceptional football in the process. Darragh Hickey, Cian O’Donoghue and Paddy Bradley controlled the midfield for Derg, setting up chance after chance for Dan Fogarty and Sam Foley, who were denied on numerous occasions by Luke Connelly, some last-ditch clearances, and the lineman’s flag.

Lough Derg applied some serious pressure and showcased a fantastic style of football, however, goals win games, and despite Derg’s first half dominance the sides went in level at half time.

The second half was a scrappier affair however, as both sides were reluctant to overcommit. Lough Derg were inches from taking the lead in the 72nd minute when a back post header from a corner looked like it was goal-bound, only for a last-ditch goal-line clearance, which deflected into the grateful hands of Luke Connelly.

As he did all game, the keeper went early with one of his patented low driven drop kicks to his physically dominant lone striker, Brian McEvoy, who won a foul on the right wing, eighteen yards out.

A noteworthy fact of this final is that Lough Derg lost their keeper to Leaving Cert duties at half time, whilst Arra lost Eoin Moloney. The replacement keeper set up a wall, which meant the Arra vanguard could start their runs from the six-yard line. Brian McEvoy hit a delightful out swinging cross, which James O’Meara effortlessly glanced on at the front post, guiding the ball perfectly inside the back post. O’Meara was also on target from a set-piece in the quarter final, the unorthodox towering centre-back is making quite the habit of scoring big goals in big games for Arra Rovers.

With time running out, Lough Derg went more direct and threw caution to the wind. However, Arra wrapped it up with a clinical counter-attack in the 90th minute, Aiden O’Dwyer doing the damage courtesy of a McEvoy assist.

Darragh Hickey was the best for Lough Derg, but the player of the match was Arra’s goal-scoring centre half, James O’Meara.

The future is very bright for Arra Rovers and Lough Derg. It is fitting that the Arra Under 19’s would go and win the double in the same season that their senior team made history in the Premier Division. If Dermot O’Halloran can successfully integrate these players into his senior setup, we may be about to see a period of Arra Rovers dominance at the top of the NT&DL.

Lough Derg are one of the best run underage set-ups around, there is absolutely no doubting that, however, for many different reasons they have failed to convert that underage dominance into success at senior level. The importance of a properly run ‘B’ team as a pathway for youth players to come through into senior soccer in the NT&DL cannot be overstated, but it will only work if you have just the right blend of experienced players and young players. Lough Derg ‘B’ perfected that blend this season and will be a real threat next season if the current structure remains.

Player of the Match: James O’Meara (Arra Rovers).

Arra Rovers: Luke Connelly; Dylan Hough, Jack O’Callaghan, James O’Meara, Oisin Tucker, Kieran Grace, Eoin Maloney, Aidan O’Dwyer; Jack O’Brien, Brian McEvoy, Jack McGrath.

Subs: Diarmuid O’Donoughue for Moloney (45); Ethan Powell for Hough (60); Kieran Leahy for Tucker (80) Harry Hunt for McGrath (80)

Lough Derg: Cathal Mullane; Dan Furey, Jack Grace, Ricky Shanahan, Shane Geraghty; Darragh Hickey, Cian McAuley, Cian O’Donoghue; Dan Fogarty, Paddy Bradley, Sam Foley.

Subs: Conor Shanahan for Mullane (45); Andy Lynch for McAuley (45)

Referee: Alec McCormack