Rathfriland Rangers exited the Irish Cup in the most cruel fashion, losing on penalties to 1st Bangor Old Boys after an enthralling 1-1 draw on Saturday.
In a third-round clash that had been postponed on each of the previous three Saturdays, Stephen McArdle had given the Whites a first-half lead before Diarmuid McPhillips poked home an equaliser after the break.
And while Rathfriland came agonisingly close to winning in extra-time, luck was against them in the shootout, losing 6-5.
Rathfriland were depleted by injuries to and unavailability of several key players, and this looked like it could be a significant factor as they came up against a 1st Bangor side defeated only once so far this season.
And the Whites weren’t helped when full-back Kieran McCourt hobbled off after an unsavoury challenge less than 20 minutes into the game.
But shortly before the half-hour, they got the all-important opener when McArdle burst through the 1st Bangor backline from midfield and sunk his finish into the corner, beyond the dive of goalkeeper James Taylor.
The Whites went in at the break with a deserved advantage, and while they were having the best of the attacking play, 1st Bangor grabbed the leveller 10 minutes after the restart.
From a corner kick, defender Michael Corkum headed the deep delivery back across goal for McPhillips to stab home into the bottom corner after another melee inside the box to make the score 1-1.
Rathfriland’s impressive forward Martin Murphy was causing all sorts of problems and with 10 minutes remaining, Murphy’s strength and pace allowed him to beat the defence again. Although he was forced wide, he delivered a simple cross for McArdle to tap in from eight yards but the midfielder scuffed it wide. It was a huge moment in the match, the last big opportunity in normal time.
Even with players’ legs tiring, both sides gave their all in extra-time, but Rathfriland had the better of it. Johnny Kernaghan looked to have grabbed the winner but Taylor got down to somehow tip it around the post.
After four successful penalties each, with Kernaghan, McArdle, Main and Hutchinson all scoring for the Rangers, 1st Bangor’s Gary Walker had his effort saved by Maguire.
It was down to Darren McGrath then to score and win it for Rathfriland, but his penalty cannoned back off the post to take it to sudden-death.
Both sides scored their next kicks, Brian Magennis slamming his home for the Whites to make it 5-5 after six each. 1st Bangor netted again to pile the pressure on Adrian Megaw, who was next to step up for Rathfriland. But his weak effort was comfortably saved by Taylor, giving the home side the win and the prize of a tie with Annagh United in the next round.
MOTM: Stephen McArdle.
RATHFRILAND RANGERS: Maguire, McCourt (McCracken 19), Main, Hutchinson, Magennis, Kernaghan, Megaw, McArdle, Tumilty, Murphy, McGrath.