Rathfriland Rangers were dumped out of the Border Cup at the first hurdle by a clinical Dromara Village side at Bell’s Bridge on Saturday.
In the third local derby between the sides in the space of a month, Dromara reversed the defeat Rathfriland inflicted upon them on the opening day of the league season.
Johnny Kernaghan’s early penalty for the Whites was soon cancelled out by Adam McDonald, who doubled his tally on the half-hour and Robert Coady scored a third for Dromara in first-half injury-time.
Despite missing five first-choice players, Rathfriland began brightly against a Dromara side who had noticeably strengthened since the clubs’ two previous clashes last month. Noel Lawless saw his effort in the opening five minutes narrowly clear the bar, while debutant Stephen McArdle had a shot cleared off the line as Rathfriland applied the early pressure.
Dromara struggled to cope with McArdle’s pace and when he broke through their back-four to face a one-on-one with ‘keeper Kieran Gordon on nine minutes he should have given his side the advantage.
He wasn’t to be kept quiet though, and three minutes later his trickery earned him a penalty when he was bundled over inside the area by Ryan McVeigh. Kernaghan dispatched the spot-kick to hand the Whites a lead.
But straight away that hard work was undone when in Dromara’s next attack a long throw was flicked on at the front post by Gerard Rooney and hooked in at the back by the unmarked McDonald.
And from a well-worked dead ball routine 17 minutes later, the Villagers went ahead. Rooney whipped a free-kick into the box and Ruairi McArdle’s header back across goal was pounced upon and finished by McDonald.
It was a goal which appeared to knock Rathfriland’s confidence and drop a hint of panic into their play.
As the half moved into added-time, Rathfriland created half-chances to nick a leveller, but instead it was Dromara who scored, as Coady latched onto a wayward shot from Rooney, beating the offside trap to finish into the bottom corner.
It was a difficult blow for the visitors to take, one which left them with a huge task in the second-half, and within a minute of the restart Coady saw another long-range effort hit the bar. It looked ominous, but instead of dropping their heads the Rangers began to fight back.
They started showing an attacking intent again, with the front three of Kernaghan, Main and McArdle all combining well. Main struck the bar with a header from Kernaghan’s free-kick, and Dromara survived a couple of goalmouth scrambles from corners.
Rooney could have killed the game, however, when in a rare chance for the home side in the second period he blasted over from 12 yards.
Surviving that drove Rathfriland on further, and Stephen Hutchinson went close with a rasping free-kick from 25 yards but as the clock ticked towards 90 minutes it was clear they weren’t to have the large slice of luck required to turn the scoreline around.
Dromara were worthy winners and after what has been a difficult year on the field for them, manager Gerard McMahon is breathing new life into the club.
For Rathfriland boss John Kernaghan, the return of Darren McGrath from suspension will be a major boost for this weekend’s Bob Radcliffe Cup clash with Tullyvallen Rangers.