A youthful Rathfriland Rangers kicked-off the new season with an impressive derby win against recently-relegated Dromara Village.
After a solid mid-table finish on their return to NAFL 1A last season, Rathfriland are looking to push on this year and there were encouraging signs in this opening-day win.
New midfield signing Conor Mackin headed the Whites ahead before fellow debutant and MOTM Johnny Kernaghan fizzed a low free-kick into the bottom corner to double their lead.
And while Dromara hit back on the stroke of half-time through Luke Russell’s long-range strike, the Rangers secured the three points when Philip Main struck in the game’s closing stages.
Rangers’ Darren McGrath and Dromara’s Kyle Hamilton were sent off late on as tempers flared.
Dromara - long-time amateur football kingpins - had the first clear-cut opportunity when a mix-up between Rathfriland skipper Aiden Sheekey and �keeper Kieran Maguire allowed Adam McDonald in but he couldn�t find the empty net.
Having joined from Banbridge Town in July, Johnny Kernaghan has added a touch of flair to the Whites� midfield and his clever backheel from Brian Bird’s ball up the line split the Dromara defence sending Mackin clean through and only a terrific save by Kieran Gordon low to his left kept the scores level.
Mackin wasn’t to be denied from the resulting corner, though, powering Kernaghan’s pinpoint delivery into the net for the opener.
And when Darren McGrath won a free-kick nine minutes later, Kernaghan was back in the thick of it, striking the set-piece from 28 yards out and beating Gordon at his near post to put the Rangers 2-0 up.
In the final minute of the half, the sheen was taken off Rathfriland’s display when a lapse in concentration allowed a free-kick to be laid to Russell whose first-time strike nestled into the corner.
That goal gave Dromara a hint of inspiration in the second-half and they looked the more likely to score next. Brendan McNeill slid his close-range shot wide when it looked easier to score.
Twelve minutes before the end, the Villagers were made to rue those missed chances when Kernaghan broke through their defence and rounded Gordon with ease, but struck the post of the gaping goal with his shot. Substitute striker Philip Main was on hand to lash home the rebound to double the lead.
Both sides were reduced to 10 men for the final minutes when McGrath reacted to a bad challenge from Dromara left-back Kyle Hamilton. The pair clashed and the referee reached for red.
Much of Rathfriland�’s attacking play had been orchestrated by Kernaghan, and in the final seconds he struck the bar with a speculative effort.
DROMARA VILLAGE: Gordon, Drake, Hamilton, McArdle, Russell, Hamilton, Kerr, McNeill, McDonald, Wright, Graham. Subs: Smyth,
RATHFRILAND RANGERS: Maguire, Hutchinson, Sheekey, Bird, Gibson, Lawless, Mackin, Kernaghan, Lockhart, Hillen, McGrath. Subs: Main, McComish, Rowland, Tumilty, Robb.