City will compete in their first cup final since their reformation two and a half seasons ago after they saw off the challenge of local rivals Camlough Rovers on Friday night. Despite the high winds and persistent rain, over 700 hardy souls packed into The Showgrounds to see City progress to the December 28 Premier Cup Final, courtesy of goals late in each half from Sean McMullan and Timmy Grant. With the weather conditions not exactly lending themselves to the free-flowing fast football the home side in particular are used to playing, it was something of a flat encounter for the vast majority of the 90 minutes, despite no shortage of effort from both teams. Despite having his entire squad at his disposal for the first time this season, City manager Darren Mullen opted to stick with the same starting line-up that produced a stunning comeback to win 5-3 at Banbridge Rangers the previous week, with the returning Paddy Mooney, Ian Curran and Keith Johnston having to be content with a place on the bench.
It was Seamus Kane’s visitors who had the first chance of the match with just two minutes on the clock when ace marksman Declan Monaghan found space on the right but he flashed his shot narrowly wide with the City defence all at sea. The hosts got their opening shot in on goal in the sixth minute when McMullan turned in the box and cracked in a left footed drive that was straight at Camlough keeper Joe Goodwill. They spurned a glorious opportunity to go in front just shy of the quarter hour mark when a slick passing move down the right saw McMullan’s backheel run perfectly for Declan Carville. However, instead of shooting early, the striker delayed his shot and that allowed the Camlough defenders time to get back and clear the danger. After Monaghan had headed straight at Peter Murphy from Gavin Moan’s free-kick on 16 minutes, chance, unlike the weather, began to dry up somewhat and it took until minute 26 for the next effort on goal to materialise. This time it was for Newry with Stephen McCabe making space down the left hand side and whipping in a cross that was met by the head of Carville only to glance it wide of the post.
The deadlock was finally broken four minutes before the interval with a scrappy goal that owed as much to McMullan’s strength and persistence than anything else. Carville’s clever effort with the outside of his right boot beat Goodwill but not the base of the left hand post before being partially cleared. However, when the ball came back into the box, McMullan was able to get turned and force it into the roof of the net from close range to send the majority of the crowd in attendance into delight. Newry could and probably should have doubled their lead two minutes into stoppage time, Firstly, McCabe’s shot cleared off the line by Moan, Conor McCaul’s rebound was saved by Goodwill before McCabe’s second effort was blocked.
The second half was much more a case of one-way traffic than the first with City dominating possession and chances on goal. However, they didn’t get the security of a second goal until nine minutes from time, despite having a number of opportunities to increase the leads before that. Jimmy Walker shot over the bar from 16 yards six minutes into the half before McCaul poked over from closer range just before the hour mark. Camlough had their best chance of the second period on 64 minutes when John Grant header just wide of Murphy’s goal as Rovers attempted to apply some pressure. However, City always had the upper hand and McMullan shot wide from 18 yards after being put through by Walker on 66 minutes with McCaul seeing his header deflected over by Greg McCabe with 19 minutes remaining, Eight minutes later, Stephen McCabe saw his effort blocked with Goodwill saving McMullan’s rebound before that all-important second goal form a Newry point of view, arrived two minutes later. Walker found himself bearing down on Goodwill’s goal but the keeper made an excellent save to deny the midfielder. However, as the ball popped up into the air, Goodwill opted to punch clear rather than catching the ball. His punch only went as far as Timmy Grant who took one touch to set himself before rifling the ball home from 15 yards to make it 2-0 and secure his side’s passage to the final, where Newry will meet the winners of Fivemiletown United and Tandragee Rovers.
Newry manager Darren Mullen was pleased with a workmanlike performance from his side as they booked their place in the maiden final for the first team in their third season. “Even though it was difficult to play in the conditions, I thought we did try to play our normal style of football. Obviously, you’re going to have to work hard in those conditions, which we did. Once we matched Camlough for effort, I thought there was only going to be one winner. We weren’t overly troubled. I thought the second half would have been tougher but it wasn’t because we worked hard and didn’t let them play. We were well worth the victory,” said Mullen. “That’s the first time this year we’ve had the full squad to pick from and it keeps that winning run going. The good news for the boys now is that they will be in Boxing Day training. That will be something for them to look forward to over Christmas. It’s good for Newry to be in a final and it’s good for the fans. The fans were brilliant tonight and there was a good crowd down so it’s something for everyone to look forward to. “It’s proud for me, being a Newry lad, to take the team to a cup final. We’ll enjoy winning this match because it’s going to be a tough final whoever comes out of the other match. “I remember getting interviewed outside the Camlough changing rooms after we were beaten and that was probably the lowest moment in my three years here. We didn’t put up a fight. Now we have players who are not only good enough but are wiling to fight for it and that’s what they did in the second half. If you can match the effort with the talent we have, we’ll come close. It will take a good team to beat us.”
Newry City AFC: Murphy, Crilly, McMahon, McCaul, Mullen, McCann, Walker, Carville (P Mooney 88), McMullan, Grant (Lowry 82), S McCabe Subs not used: Wilson, Johnston, Curran.
Camlough Rovers: Goodwill, G McCabe, Magill, Moan, G Mooney (Magee 72), S King, McDonald (Massey 61), D McCabe, Monaghan, Grant, J King Subs not used: Mackey, Loughran, Kane.
Referee: Gerry Murray