Hanover Harps 1
Stella Maris 0
By Kieran Murphy
HAIL Hanover Harps. They were totally and utterly convincing winners of the SFAI Skechers Under-15 Cup at the Oscar Traynor Centre in Dublin on Saturday. They out-fought, out-muscled and skilfully handled the challenge of a side who would be considered one of the iconic names of schoolboy football in Ireland. Only in the third quarter did they really enjoy a period of real dominance. After that, Hanover rose their game and snuffed out the opposition.
The eventual winners piled on the early pressure. Brandon Kelly had a chance in the second minute but was denied by Petrean Marius-Valentine between the Maris sticks. On six minutes the same player blazed over when another opportunity presented itself. Harps had an appeal for a penalty turned down while Kyle Nolan just failed to get a touch which would surely have yielded an opening goal.
The Dubliners looked as if they had found a way past the Hanover defence when Graham Keoghan got onto a through ball but with Jason Brennan advancing he scooped the ball over both the keeper and the crossbar. Both sides had appeals for a penalty before the interval but referee Owen Kelly was not listening.
“I thought today we made a couple of good chances early in the game and we didn’t take them. We could have paid the price and Stella had a couple of very good chances,” said Kieran Hennessy, a member of the Harps coaching team when reflecting on the game afterwards.
In Eric Yoro, Stella had a potential match winner. Big, strong and skilful he was hard to stop. Every time he picked up the ball he ran at the Harps defence. Five minutes into the second half his rocket looked destined for the top corner of the net but Jason Brennan hurled himself to his left and tipped the shot over the crossbar. It was a save to lift any side and while Stella proceeded to dominate for a further spell it was Harps who grew in confidence.
“It is not the first time this year he has saved us. He saved us in the penalty shoot-out in the Regional Cup final,” said Hennessy.
As the game progressed it was clear a moment of brilliance or a mistake was going to be decisive. With 11 minutes left Harps were awarded a free just on the left-hand corner of the big square. It suited a right-footed player and when Brandon Kelly lined up his shot he was surely going for the top right-hand corner. As it turned out his shot flew over the wall on the left side but the unfortunate keeper was unable to gather cleanly. The ball fell kindly in front of the onrushing Harps forwards and Ronan Quinlan poked home from close range.
The Harps faithful on the line went wild.
“We have always been onto the lads about the ball into the box. Get onto the breaks and when the keeper spilled the ball we were onto it,” remarked Hennessy afterwards.
Stella only created one clear chance in those frantic last minutes when Brennan got down at his near post to gather an effort from Keoghan. The net-minder was ably assisted by a magnificent back four.
“Kyle (Foley) and Jamie (Furlong) are rock solid back there. Stella knew that and knew it would be hard for them to get a goal,” said Hennessy.
Harps had 16 heroes through the campaign who beat the holders and won seven matches to reach the final. Anyone who watched this was privileged to witness history.
Hanover Harps: Jason Brennan, Mikee Horohan, Cillian McGrath, Jamie Furlong, Kyle Foley, Kyle Nolan, Harry Lloyd, Ronan Quinlan, Brandon Kelly, Stephen Smyth, Jack Murphy. Sub: Jack Begley for Quinlan (67 mins), Diarmuid Long for Lloyd (68 mins). Rest of panel: Jack Dunne, Dylan Doyle, Aaron Bowden.
Stella Maris: Petrean Marius-Valentine, Adam Gannon, Nathan Fitzpatrick, Kareem Ahmed, Reece Fahey, Eric Yoro, Luigi Sacco, Conor Kilbane, Evan Harte, Graham Keoghan, Cian Hamilton. Subs: Adam Costello for Kilbane (46 mins), Akrim Militi for Fahey (52 mins), Adam Reid for Fitzpatrick (63 mins).
Referee: Owen Kelly.