Cunningham joins Crusaders’ growing list of hat-trick heroes

SEAN ‘Wiggy”’Cunningham joined Sean McKay, Richie Gartland and Ruairi Feeney on the ever growing list of Gilford players who have scored a hat-trick this season as Crusaders romped to an easy 6-1 win against Derryhirk United.

Jon Lennon made a welcome return and staked a great claim for a regular first team place with an assured and commanding performance in midfield. Kevin McCartan stepped up to replace the absent Kieran McCourt, with right back Scott Greenaway assuming the Captain’s role. The defence was rounded out by Paddy Finnegan and Stephen O’Hare with ever present Martin Savage in goals. The midfield was comprised of Gartland and Lennon with cousins Ruairi and Mark Feeney and brothers Sean and Mick Cunningham rounding out the starting line-up.

Derryhirk’s chances were few and far between in the match, but they came close in the 8th minute when a well struck free kick eluded the Gilford keeper and fell to the waiting striker at the back post. The resulting shot ricocheted off the post for a goal kick.

Gilford turned early pressure into a lead in 19 minutes when Ruairi Feeney broke down the right, penetrating right into the oppositions box, before playing the ball across the goal-mouth, past the scrabbling Derryhirk keeper for Wiggy to get his first of the day as he ran in to knock the ball over the line.

Derryhirk soon restored parity when Savage failed to properly gather a high cross ball and was dispossessed, allowing Derryhirk to equalise. The next 20 minutes seemed to comprise an endless stream of Gilford attacks as they tried to restore their lead with Lennon and Gartland controlling the midfield in the air and on the ground and the hard work paid off in the 44th minute when Cunningham grabbed his second following another great run and cross-ball from Ruairi.

Derryhirk seemed to fall apart at this point allowing Gilford to increase their lead. The goalkeeper rolled the ball out to his defender and the ball seemed to roll over his boot as he tried to control it. Mark Feeney quickly spotted the error and intercepted the wayward ball before looking up and floating the ball into the back of the net from 35 yards over a helpless keeper.

Derryhirk had one more chance on the stroke of half-time when a well struck free kick was stopped by Savage at his left post as he made up for his earlier mistake.

The home team’s last real chance of the match came three minutes after the restart, again from a free-kick. This time the ball was floated into the six yard box where the waiting forward powered a header from point blank range which Savage managed to stop. That was it, as far as attacking football went, for Derryhirk as Gilford got down to serious business and over-ran them for the remainder of the game.

Immediately after Derryhirk’s chance Sean Cunningham turned provider when he played a great ball through the middle for Ruairi Feeney to turn on the pace and direct an unstoppable shot high into the net. Ruairi almost doubled his tally two minutes later when a great ball from Gartland released him, only for his shot to go inches past the post.

Gilford continued their relentless pressure, as their defence mopped up anything that came near them, looking to finish off the opposition. Gilford made their first substitution in the 65th minute with Ryan McDowell replacing a tiring Mark Feeney and saw their lead extended further a minute later when a flick on from Sean Cunningham, again, set Ruairi Feeney loose to grab his second of the game.

A second substitution soon followed as McKay came on for Mick Cunningham. McKay proceeded to torment the life out of the Derryhirk right back, constantly passing him or turning on a sixpence to leave the defender standing.

Cunningham’s third, and the last of the game, came in the 75th minute when Gartland played the best ball of the afternoon from just outside his own penalty box over the Derryhirk defence for him to hit a great strike to make the score 6-1.

So Gilford finished the game with four hat-trick scorers on the field and created even more chances in the remaining 15 minutes but were thwarted by the Derryhirk keeper who seemed to find his form all too late.

So a good day at the office for Gilford as, in addition to this victory, two goals from Stephen Donaghy helped the reserve team defeat local rivals Scarva Rangers in the Mid Ulster League cup.