Rathfriland secure top half finish

Goalscorer Darren McGrath bursts forward during Rathfriland Rangers' victory over UUJ at Iveagh Park.
Goalscorer Darren McGrath bursts forward during Rathfriland Rangers' victory over UUJ at Iveagh Park.

Two goals from Darren McGrath helped Rathfriland Rangers to round off their season with a win over relegated Ulster University Jordanstown.

That win helped them ensure a top half finish in NAFL Division 1A.

Nathan Baird in action for Rathfriland.

Nathan Baird in action for Rathfriland.

It has been a rollercoaster season at Iveagh Park. Only a few weeks ago, the Rangers were looking down and out, dead certs for the drop and suffering heavy defeat after heavy defeat.

But the turnaround has been remarkable, and new manager Clifford Sterritt said after Saturday’s victory that it had been a mammoth effort from his players to keep the club up.

“Everyone said it was an impossible job but by God we proved them wrong,” he said.

“I just want take chance to thank everyone involved at the club, especially the players who were gladiators, and most of all the supporters who are a credit to the club, following home an away.”

Steven Wilton (left) presents a matchball to Rathfriland Football Club chairman Howard Murray for Rathfriland Rangers' final game of the season, against UUJ on Saturday. Mr Wilton sponsored the ball in memory of his late father George Wilton, a former committee member and stalwart at the Iveagh Park club.

Steven Wilton (left) presents a matchball to Rathfriland Football Club chairman Howard Murray for Rathfriland Rangers' final game of the season, against UUJ on Saturday. Mr Wilton sponsored the ball in memory of his late father George Wilton, a former committee member and stalwart at the Iveagh Park club.

While both sides in Saturday’s game had their league fates already decided, for better or worse, they were fired up to seek a win.

The opening exchanges saw both cancel each other out, but on 19 minutes McGrath broke free, latched on to a through ball and lobbed the ball over the UUJ keeper for a superb opener.

But just before the break, though, the scores were levelled when UUJ winger Sipho Bando played a cross into the Rathfriland box only for Whites captain Conor Larkin to deflect it in to his own net leaving keeper Shane Harrison helpless.

Immediately after the break, the Whites were level again, however. McGrath pounced when the UUJ keeper spilled a shot back into the middle of the penalty area. The Rangers winger finished the chance smartly for his second of the day.

And he almost clinched his hat-trick late on when he headed Ross Black’s free-kick towards the top corner, only to see the keeper leap at full stretch to claw it around the post.

The win meant Rathfriland finished seventh in the league, unthinkable as recently as the start of March.

Sterritt - who had initially joined until the end of the season - is extending his stay and is already putting his plans in place for next season, promising some significant developments before the end of May.

Man of the match: Darren McGrath (Rathfriland Rangers).

RATHFRILAND RANGERS: Shane Harrison, Michael Green, Conor Larkin, Philip Main, Nathan Baird, Darren McGrath, Kevin Henry, Ross Black, Karl McVerry, Ally Wilson, Decky Carville. Subs: Kieran Maguire, Lee McDowell, Ben Wilson.