Rathfriland High School have become the first school in Northern Ireland to win the prestigious tile of Under 15 Football Small Schools Cup winners for a second time after beating Newtownabbey High Schoolin a penalty shoot out last Wednesday afternoon.
The Under 15 Small Schools Cup Final against Newtownabbey High School was always going to be competitive and a closely fought contest as it was a repeat of the final back in 2009 when Rathfriland took home the spoils.
For the first 20 minutes, Newtownabbey controlled and dictated the play and were rewarded with a fine goal mid-way through the first half.
After that, the Rathfriland players started to put a number of passes together to play in the manner which they were accustomed to. Although the score remained the same at half time, Rathfriland had the bit between their teeth and came back very strong throughout the second half.
Towards the end, a free-kick was awarded just outside the opposition’s box. Player of the match and captain of the Rathfriland team, Joel Copes, lined up the shot and, with the home supporters lined around the side of the pitch willing him on, Joel curled it into the top corner.
Deservedly, the team had equalised and could now capitalise on the obvious frustration felt by the opposition during extra-time.
The standard of football continued to be of a high quality and the Rathfriland goalkeeper, Lee Patterson, in particular made a number of important saves. With only a minute of the allotted time left in the first half of extra time, Newtownabbey scored a second goal and were buoyed at the realisation that this could be the winner. Rathfriland had other ideas however and a hand ball in the penalty box gave the Rathfriland players a last ditch opportunity to equalise once again and send the game into a penalty shoot out. Captain Joel Copes was again given the responsibility of taking the penalty and sent the goalkeeper the wrong way to the rapturous applause of the supporters.
With finger nails bitten back to the skin, the penalty shoot-out produced the usual excitement of near misses, great saves and cool finishes. With the score at 1-1, Lee Patterson pulled off the save of the match when he somehow deflected the ball up and over the crossbar when it was going into the top corner. Patterson then saved another and the Rathfriland team celebrated in true shoot out fashion by mobbing the goalkeeper.
Rathfriland were deserving of their victory. Whilst the opposition became somewhat complacent in the first half, the Rathfriland players worked very hard to get back into the game and realised the Newtownabbey side were vulnerable without possession. This, coupled with a lack of self discipline by some of the opposition players, allowed a window of opportunity for the Rathfriland players which they took and used to their full advantage.
The school and PE Department would like to thank all of the pupils, teachers and parents, who travelled to add their support and who played such an important role in motivating the team to victory. Special thanks also go to the Bronte family of Rathfriland Football Club who kindly donated the match ball for the final.