Needing just two points from their final two league games to secure the Intermediate League a title Newry City rammed home their superiority as the best team in the division by winning both games to secure the league with points to spare and in the process score 101 goals.
For the first of these two games the Newry boys travelled to Broomhill for a midweek fixture. With the home side languishing near the bottom of the table Newry would have been confident that they would get the necessary points all in one go and that looked very likely to happen when Neil Mullen volleyed a Jimmy Walker corner into the Broomhill net after only five minutes. However despite dominating possession it took the Newry boys almost another half hour before all nerves were settled with a second goal from their best player on the day, Jimmy Walker, a trade mark free kick from the edge of the box curled up and over the wall giving Sammy Allen in the Broomhill nets little chance. The home side almost got back in the game on 35 minutes when a long ball caught the Newry defence out leaving Jason Dickson with a clear sight of goal. Fortunately Peter Murphy was on hand to bail out his defence, quickly off his line forcing Dickson to rush his shot which sailed harmlessly wide. Newry were clinical in their reply. A passing movement which started in their own half with Kevin McArdle, shifted to Walker inside the Broomhill half he in turn picked out Sean McMullan on the edge of the box. With the deftest of flicks McMullan helped the ball to Stephen McCabe who drilled a low shot across Allen hitting the base of the post on its way into the net.
With the points in the bag Newry turned on the style in the second half. Play had not long resumed when they made their first chance, Walker crossing to the near post where Thomas McCann stooped to head on goal Allen doing well to push his effort around the post. There was little he could do when Declan Carville headed home Walkers resultant corner, the ball hitting the top corner despite Allen getting his fingers to the ball. Minutes later and Kevin McArdle came close to grabbing a goal, set up by a mazy run along the by line from McCann, McArdle’s low snap shot saved by the legs of Allen. Goal number five was very similar to the preceding goal, Conor McCaul meeting a Walker corner with a bullet header, this time hitting the top corner without the assistance of the goal keeper’s finger tips. It’s strange that a centre forward who has scored 44 times could possibly find himself in any sort of goal drought. However going into this game Newrys prolific top scorer Sean McMullan had not scored in five games.
That was rectified on 70 minutes, Stephen McCabe easily beating his opposite number to get a low cross into the box where McMullan made space to place his shot past Allen for Newry’s sixth goal of the night. And so the points were Newry’s and although they could not keep a clean sheet, Andy McHugh grabbing a late consolation goal for Broomhill, that did little to dampen the joyous scenes which broke out on the final whistle which confirmed that Newry were Intermediate A Champions.
Newry City AFC: Murphy, McMahon, Mooney, Mullen, McCaul, McArdle, Walker, Carville, McMullan, McCann, McCabe. Subs: Edgar, Johnston, Grant, Lowry, Curran.
That result meant that Saturday’s fixture at Hanover, which for so long looked likely to determine who won the league, was now relatively meaningless. That however is not a philosophy to which Newry manager Darren Mullen subscribes and although he made seven changes to his starting 11 from Tuesdays match from the very start of the game it was clear that this was a game which Newry wanted to win, Mark Lowry out pacing his marker and pitching in a cross which Keith Johnston won but was unable to keep his header below the cross bar.
Hanover’s reply came quickly, Regan McIlveen getting behind the Newry defence after six minutes but faced with the advancing Peter Murphy attempted to lob the ball over the Newry keeper, his effort bouncing wide. On 10 minutes it was Andy Martins turn to keep the Newry goal intact getting back to block a shot from Justin Bradley who had beaten the Newry off side trap and looked poised to score but for Martins timely intervention.
For the next 20 minutes Newry dominated play with the forward line of Johnston, Grant and Lowry posing all sorts of problems for the Hanover defence, but for some crude tackles punished with yellow cards by the referee Newry would have had at least two clear goal scoring chances. The visitors did have the final chance of the half McCann tricking his way to the end line to cross for Grant to try an overhead volley which did not trouble Matthew Short in the Hanover net. With game scoreless at half time the home side gained the momentum soon after the restart.
The first blow to Newry came on 47 minutes when Chris Elliot tried his luck from 25 yards out, his shot across goal beating Murphy to nestle inside the far side netting to put Hanover a goal up. A bigger blow to Newry came after 60 minutes when the referee ruled that Murphy had handled a headed back pass from Ian Curran outside his penalty area immediately brandishing a straight red card to the Newry keeper which rules him out of this week’s Marshall Cup final.
Much to their credit Newry responded in a fashion which you would expect from champions. Almost straight from the resumption a Kevin McArdle free kick found Martin at the back post, the Newry youngsters header blocked on its way to goal. Chris McMahon replaced Murphy in nets and in that unfamiliar position he was to play a captains part. On 75 minutes Hanover broke free from a period of Newry passing and with an over load in attacking Hanover players it took a pair of reflex saves from McMahon to keep Newry in the game. On 80 minutes even better was to come from McMahon when Hanover were awarded a free kick just outside the box. With a make shift keeper it did appear to the travelling Newry support that Hanover had simply to hit the target to score. When the free kick was launched towards the top corner of the Newry net they would have feared the worst but that did not allow for McMahon who flung himself across goal to save.
This proved to inspire his team with Newry drawing level on 82 minutes. Attacking down the left wing the ball was cleared to the edge of the Hanover penalty area where Mark Lowry lay in wait to pick his spot bending his shot around a crowded penalty box and into the bottom corner of the Hanover net for Newry’s 100th league goal of the season. Smelling victory Newry piled forward. Lowry had tortured his marker all day and once more skinned him down the right wing before crossing to McMullan who twisted to shoot and when his effort was blocked was first to react to the loose ball setting up Johnston, his shot taking a wicked deflection which tested the reflexes of Short to the full. Newry still had one more chance and this time that little bit of luck was with them. Decky Carville sprayed the ball wide to Johnston. He outpaced his marker and crossed into the box where McMullan’s first time shot hit the inside of the post, the ball falling perfectly for Jimmy Walker who was following up and was now perfectly placed to turn the rebound home from short range to seal victory for Newry.
Newry City AFC: Murphy, Edgar, Wilson, Curran. Martin, McMahon, McArdle, McCann, Grant, Johnston, Lowry, Subs: Carville, McMullan, Walker, McCabe McCaul.
Newry City’s next match is on Friday 13th May when they play Valley Rangers in the Marshal Cup final, kick off at Banbridge Town FC at 7pm. Travel club bus leaves the Stonebridge at 6pm sharp, all are welcome.
Having sealed the league title Newry manager Darren Mullen was delighted with his team “It’s a great sense of relief to get over the line and I can’t praise this group of lads enough. The dedication and bond between the team is there for all to see and I’m delighted that they have got their just rewards. The Hanover game typified our season in that we refused to be beaten. Although it was meaningless in terms of the title we wanted to finish the league with a win. To do it in the manner we did was fitting. I made seven changes from the previous game to give all the players a chance to impress before the cup final.
We were by no means weakened by these changes and that shows the strength in our squad this season. Hanover have been our closest rivals all season and it took a super free kick to beat Murphy. After he was harshly sent off a lesser team would have just seen the game out but that is not our way and even with ten men we were the better team. No one can deny that we have been the best team in the division.
We will now focus on Friday night’s cup final and hopefully add another trophy to a terrific season”