By Declan McGrath
Abbey Rangers exited the under 16 championship at the penultimate stage on Friday night when they went down to Kildare kingpins, Moorefield. The home side, having topped their group, were always going to be tough opponents but the Kildangan / Ballykelly lads were up for the challenge from the word go.
After a frantic opening with both sides playing at a ferocious pace, Moorefield were proving to be sharper up front and raced into a four points to two lead by the mid-point of the half. They soon stretched their lead even further when a high ball from a free thirty metres out deceived Rangers goalkeeper, Conor Perry, and landed in the net. In a strange twist of fate, Rangers scored an identical goal a minute later when a high ball from corner forward Stephen Keogh dropped through the keeper’s hands to give the visitors a much needed lift.
Rangers then took control particularly around the middle of the field where Michael John Prendergast was winning everything in the air. The introduction of Andrew Nolan added strength to the Rangers half back line and Josh Lawler was terrorising the home defence with his surging runs. Points from Keogh and Lawler were followed by another Keogh goal after some great link play involving Daniel Cawley, Brian Day and Liam Allen as the visitors took the lead for the first time.
Moorefield responded in the dying moments adding two late points to leave the minimum between the sides at the break with the score at 2-5 to 1-7 in favour of Abbey Rangers.
The second half was controversial to say the least and some of the incidents proved costly at the end for the visitors. In the opening minutes, a Moorefield player carried the ball over the side line while running up the wing and as the Rangers defenders stopped on the linesman’s call, the referee shouted that the ball was not out. The Moorefield player continued his run and the ball ended up in the Rangers net.
A Josh Lawler free reduced the deficit to two points but the home side struck for a third goal after a high ball into the square was not dealt with by the Rangers defence. To their credit, the Rangers lads showed their fighting spirit and raised their game. Robert McGrath held off the Moorefield defence to fire over a long range point to get the scoreboard ticking again. Just a minute later, Michael John Prendergast delivered a superb ball to Stephen Keogh who hit a rocket of a shot to the roof of the net. However, the ball went through a hole in the top of the net and the referee adjudged the ball to have gone over the bar and awarded a point instead despite the protestations of the umpire and the Rangers side line.
Stephen Keogh responded best to the bizarre decision when a minute later he weaved his way through the Moorefield full back line and goaled again to level the game at 3-8 apiece. However, that was to be the visitor’s final score as Moorefield fired over the next two points and then goaled following a mix up in the Rangers defence. They added a final point to finish the game on a score line of 4-11 to 3-8.
Great credit must go to the Abbey Rangers lads who fought right to the end and continued to battle on where other teams would have thrown in the towel. The two massive calls by the man in the middle had a huge bearing on the result and, unfortunately, he was a central character throughout the game.
That ends the year for the Under 16s and despite the lack of silverware, they finished the year far stronger than they started it. These were a great bunch of lads to work with and many of them are eligible for Under 15 football which starts in early October.
Abbey Rangers: Conor Perry; Dara Lovern, Daniel Cawley, Daniel Allen; Brian Day, Cian Stafford, Robert Harrison; Michael John Prendergast, Josh Lawler (0-5); Robert McGrath (0-1), Jack Smith, Liam Allen; Alex Fogarty, Alan O’Connell, Stephen Keogh (3-2)
Substitutes: Andrew Nolan for Robert Harrison; Liam Kehoe for Alan O’Connell; TJ Sweeney for Alex Fogarty; Nathan Clarke for Liam Allen