Rathfriland Rangers 3-1 Markethill Swifts
Bob Radcliffe Cup, round one
Rathfriland Rangers edged past a doggedly determined Markethill Swifts side on Friday night (August 29) with two goals in extra-time to progress to the second round of the Bob Radcliffe Cup.
After grabbing an early lead through captain Aidan Sheekey’s header, the Whites held their Co Armagh opponents at arm’s length for the majority of the game.
But they failed to kill them off and a late leveller from Kyle Irwin gave the home support a nervy few moments before Philip Main and Scott Craven sealed the win in the added periods.
Rathfriland manager John Kernaghan was without six players from his usual first-choice squad and opted to continue with his policy of giving younger players an opportunity, with a 15-year-old and two 16-year-olds making it into his final 14.
Markethill came to Iveagh Park on an impressive run of form, undefeated in four Mid-Ulster Intermediate B league games and having struck 11 goals in those fixtures.
But it was Rathfriland who hit the net first when Johnny Kernaghan flighted his free-kick from wide towards the back post with the unmarked Sheekey perfectly placed to nod it in after 12 minutes.
Sheekey marshalled his defensive partners Kieran McCourt and Stephen Hutchinson well to restrict the Swifts to only a handful half-chances, but at the other end of the field that decisive final ball was missing for the Rangers and as the game wore on a tension crept into the ground.
Rathfriland finally did create two clear-cut opportunities as clock ticked into the final quarter of normal time, but Main couldn’t get a clean contact on Kernaghan’s drilled cross with the goal at his mercy and Conor Macken headed narrowly over from Hutchinson’s swirling delivery into the six-yard box.
Within 60 seconds, Markethill had their smash-and-grab equaliser, which was no less than their tenacious display - especially in midfield - had deserved.
Stephen Hartley snatched possession in the centre-circle and drove forward, laying on a perfect pass for Irwin to slide a shot into the bottom corner to send the travelling support into raptures.
And on 87 minutes, the visitors thought they had nicked a winner when centre-half Denver Clarke ventured forward and saw his downward header brilliantly saved.
But with neither side able to grab a second goal within the initial 90 minutes the game went to extra-time.
With a distinctive red sky providing a dramatic backdrop at Iveagh Park, Rathfriland got their noses in front within two minutes of the restart. Kernaghan was again the provider, his ball across crowded Markethill box stabbed home by Main.
While the Swifts had matched the home side in several area during normal time, the Whites’ fitness and class began to show in extra-time and victory was sealed late on when Craven audaciously curled in a free-kick from a near-impossible angle with the game’s last kick.
Rathfriland hadn’t made it easy for themselves, but there was encouragement to be drawn from the brief cameos by some of the club’s youngsters who coped admirably with their first taste of the pressure of a cup tie.
A second-round clash against Tullyvallen Rangers now awaits the Whites on Saturday, September 13, after their 4-0 away win over Broomhill on Saturday.
But firstly Kernaghan will take his men over the Dromara hills on Saturday (September 6) to face Dromara Village in the third encounter between the two sides in this fledgling season, this time in the Border Cup.
Man of the match: Aidan Sheekey (Rathfriland Rangers).