Johnny Kernaghan hit a magnificent hat-trick as Rathfriland Rangers coasted past Hanover at Brownstown Park on Saturday and into round two of the Mid-Ulster Cup.
The Whites midfielder opened the scoring in the first-half and added two more after the break, with Stephen McArdle rounding off the win with a goal at the death.
This was the performance Rathfriland supporters had been waiting for, with the entire 11, which was overhauled in the summer, all combining to give Rangers a superb all-round victory and a place in the next round of a competition in which the club reached the quarter-finals last year.
On a sunny-but-breezy day in Portadown, Kernaghan opened the scoring when he struck a wonderful volley in the early part of a cagey first 45 minutes.
Within moments of the half-time restart, McGrath had a shot well saved by Matthew Shortt when he burst through one-on-one, while McArdle saw two efforts drift just wide.
And then out of almost nothing, Kernaghan doubled Rathfriland’s lead. Looking to find space 25 yards from goal but with his options limited, he let go of a fearsome strike with his weaker right foot and it sailed into the top corner.
It was a goal worthy of winning any match, but then so too was his third. After McGrath hurdled tackle after tackle on a mazy run through the Hanover defence, Kernaghan collected possession on the edge of the box and curled a wonderful effort into the far corner to complete his treble.
Having put the result to bed he was replaced by Cathal Tumilty and left the field to a rousing ovation from the travelling support.
Each goal had been outstanding in its own right, but to have scored three of this quality in the same afternoon was a remarkable achievement.
As well as the deadly attacking play, Rathfriland backed up their performance with a rock-solid defensive display. Stephen Hutchinson marshalled his line well, winning headers and loose balls with minimum fuss, while his partner in the centre Philip Main also proved virtually impossible to get past. The only sniff Hanover had in the entire 90 minutes was when a deflected cross spooned onto the bar, but otherwise Kieran Maguire was a spectator between the posts for Rathfriland.
As the game entered its final stages, McArdle ended it when he rounded the last man and the goalkeeper after a sharp counter attack to tap home in the final minute.
Rathfriland Rangers: Maguire, McCourt, Main, Hutchinson, Bird, Kernaghan, Gilmore, Mackin, Murphy, McGrath, McArdle.
Subs: Lawless, Sheekey,Tumilty.