NEFL | End of the road for Muirhevnamor as Usher Celtic crush their Aviva dream

FAI Junior Cup 3rd Round | Muirhevnamor 1–3 Usher Celtic

Muirhevnamor’s Gary Clarke gets away from Usher Celtic’s Leroy Staunton. PICTURE: BEN MCSHANE

The road to the Aviva Stadium was closed off for Muirhevnamor on Sunday afternoon as they were dumped out of the FAI Junior Cup by Usher Celtic.

A feisty first half ended with the sides all square at 1–1, Billy Smith’s looping header canceling out Stephen Donnelly’s opener which came very much against the run of play.

The tie was very much in the melting pot when Usher pulled in front through a Derek Flood header on the hour mark and they made sure of a place in round four when substitute Thomas Cooney capitalised on a mistake by Philip Duffy to seal the win in the latter stages.

The Muirhevnamor team — wearing their new CX+Sport away kit — that played Usher Celtic on Sunday. PICTURE: BEN MCSHANE

After overcoming Valeview Shankhill and Finglas United in the earlier rounds, Sean Maguire’s side were looking to add the AUL Premier side to their list of Dublin conquests.

A bright start, which saw Muirhevnamor dominate the opening 15 minutes, gave the locals real hope of causing an upset against a side ranked as one the favourites to win the competition.

With Billy Smith and Tiarnan Mulvenna spearheading the attack, the NEFL champions looked a real threat in the opening stages but their failure to put one of a number of chances away cost dearly them in the end.

Muirhevnamor‘s Brian Begley is tackled by Usher Celtic’s Barry Fox. PICTURE: BEN MCSHANE

Centre-back Chris Caulfield was first to test Karl Lynam in the Usher goal, his header from a Mulvenna corner drawing a save from the ‘keeper with less than two minutes on the clock.

Mulvenna flashed a header over the top after a poor clearance from Stephen Doyle before Lyman rushed from his line to smother a Billy Smith effort after the striker was set clear by a neat Gary Clarke pass.

The Mor’s fast opening continued, leaving Usher unsettled and centre-back Leroy Staunton was fortunate to stay on the pitch after hauling back Mulvenna just as he was about to pull the trigger. Referee Paul McGeown issued a yellow card when it could so easily have been a different colour.

Muirhevnamor striker Tiarnan Mulvenna is hacked down by Usher Celtic defender Leroy Staunton on his way to goal. PICTURE: BEN MCSHANE

Things began to heat up just past the quarter hour when Mulvenna was booked for flattening Usher striker Donnelly, much to the dismay of the visiting bench.

By that stage, the Dubliners had settled with Jordan Buckley hitting Michael Cooney’s post and Staunton driving an effort just over the Mor crossbar.

A moment of brilliance saw them pull ahead in the 19th minute. Ger Jordan’s stunning ball around the corner picked out Buckley and with Caulfield taken out of the game by the pass the Usher centre-forward cooly took a touch, rounded Cooney and slotted home.

Billy Smith meets a Tiarnan Mulvenna free-kick to loop home Muirhevnamor’s equaliser. PICTURE: BEN MCSHANE

To their credit, Muirhevnamor restored parity just two minutes later when Smith rose to meet a Mulvenna free and glance a header over the flat-footed Lynam. It was a well-deserved equaliser.

There was nothing between the sides after that with Cooney making a couple of good saves to deny Buckley while at the other end Smith had a shot blocked by Flood, the striker’s appeals for handball falling on deaf ears.

Referee McGeown brandished yellow again just before the break, Muirhevnamor left-back Stephen Smith unlucky to go into the book after appearing to make a good challenge on Jordan just before the half-time whistle.

Maguire shuffled his pack at the interval with Wayne Robinson coming on for Smith, a move that saw Gary Clarke moved deeper into a full-back position.

It was the victors, however, who enjoyed the better of things and they edged back in front on the hour mark when Flood took advantage of some loose marking to power a Buckley corner past Cooney.

Usher set about putting the tie to bed and it took a last-ditch block from Caulfield to stop Donnelly from making it 3–1 just minutes later.

Sean Maguire, on behalf of sponsors Mattress Depot Dundalk, presents a new away kit to Muirhevnamor captain Jimmy Cooney. PICTURE: BEN MCSHANE

With Usher starting to retreat, and Lynam looking less than assured with his handling, there was real hope that Muirhevnamor could pull it back.

Conor Gorman replaced the tiring Mickey O’Kane in the centre of the park and it looked like the onslaught was beginning to arrive when Billy Smith saw a header cleared off the line by Jason Ivory with the goalkeeper nowhere to be seen.

The visitors looked shaky at the back and Harry McShane was next to profit from some poor defending, the midfielder seeing his attempt gathered by Lynam.

Muirhevnamor’s Brendan Hughes is closed down by Usher Celtic’s Darren McDonnell. PICTURE: BEN MCSHANE

The tide turned again, though, when Sean Conlon, an 81st-minute substitute for McShane, limped off with a bad ankle injury just minutes after being introduced, leaving Muirhevnamor with ten men.

And Usher put the result beyond doubt in the dying stages when Philip Duffy — trying to fight the strong wind by playing the ball out from the back — misdirected a pass straight to Cooney who made no mistake past his namesake.

With their Leinster Senior Cup and FAI Junior Cup hopes up in smoke, Muirhevnamor’s sole focus now turns back to the North East Football League but they will look back on this game as one that got away in the end.

Billy Smith is denied by Usher goalkeeper Karl Lynam. PICTURE: BEN MCSHANE

MUIRHEVNAMOR: Michael Cooney; Brian Begley, Chris Caulfield, Philip Duffy, Stephen Smith (Wayne Robinson HT); Gary Clarke, Harry McShane (Sean Conlon 81), Mickey O’Kane (Conor Gorman 73), Brendan Hughes; Billy Smith, Tiarnan Mulvenna.

USHER CELTIC: Karl Lynam, Stephen Doyle, Derek Flood, Darren McDonnell, Leroy Staunton, Barry Fox, Ger Jordan, Jason Ivory, Jordan Buckley, Stephen Donnelly (Thomas Cooney 77), Wayne Walker. Subs not used: Tony Grouse, Karl Bateman, Graham Murphy.

REFEREE: Paul McGeown.

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