For the second year running, Mountmellick United fell at the last hurdle and suffered cup final heartbreak against Athlone opposition. Last year it was St. Peters who did the damage in the Counties Cup decider, and on Saturday evening Willow Park proved too strong for the Laois men in the Paddy Cotter Cup final in Mullingar.
Having beaten St. Peters in last week’s semi-final, the Mountmellick men went into this with high hopes, but Willow Park have taken this season by storm and look odds-on to take a clean sweep of all the honours, a feat that they will complete if they take the Counties Cup back to Athlone next week.
They started brightly but a determined Mountmellick defence looked to have things under control until a huge slice of luck gave Willow an early lead. The outstanding Colin Fortune threaded a neat pass over the top of the Mountmellick defence leaving Aidan Hyland in space on the right wing. Hyland’s intended cross clipped the outstretched boot of Shane Shortall and looped over the head of keeper Matsy Forde and nestled in the far corner of the net.
United responded well to that early setback and created a handful of half-chances themselves. Mark Grennan was put through but Peter Sherlock scrambled back to deny the midfielder and both Shane Dowling and David Kelly had efforts that at least made Aidan Browne work, but with the advantage of a driving wind Willow commanded the first half and although they failed to find a second before the break they left the field at half-time looking like the most likely victors.
Any chance of a Mountmellick comeback was all but ended four minutes after the restart. As the rain continued to pour down, Mark Goodwin and Eddie Melia combined in an effort to halt Mark Nicholson’s progress down the left flank. Nicholson appeared to have been clipped by the trailing leg of the unfortunate Goodwin, who was one of United’s better players on the day, and referee Kevin Conroy immediately pointed to the spot. Matsy Forde guessed correctly and got a hand to Ronan Frawley’s spot kick but it crashed in off the crossbar and that was as good as that for the Laois outfit.
They kept plugging away but Willow never looked under severe pressure and their fluid passing game had United chasing shadows for large parts of the second half. Following the tragic death of his brother just hours after Mountmellick’s 2-1 win over St. Peters last weekend, stand-in skipper David Kelly almost put his side right back in contention on the hour mark only to see his towering header graze the crossbar, but Willow remained in control and added a third soon after to seal the victory.
Matsy Forde had already pulled off two fine saves to keep Willow at bay but there was nothing he could about substitute Brian Fogarty’s inch-perfect strike from the edge of the 18-yard box. Aidan Hyland scampered down the left wing and when his cutback found Fogarty, the young midfielder made no mistake to finish the game off and condemn Mountmellick to another cup final defeat.
MOUNTMELLICK UTD: Matsy Forde, Mark Goodwin, Shane Shortall, Mark Parkinson (Laurence Kenny 78), Eddie Melia, Shane O’Connell, David Kelly (Johnny Hyland 78), Mark Grennan, Robbie Hibbitts, Shane Dowling, David Nevin (Paul Lee 55).
WILLOW PARK: Aidan Browne, James Mullally, Peter Sherlock, Ronan Frawley, Graham Whittaker, Colin Fortune, Aidan Hyland, Mark Nicholson, Gary Devine (Brian Frawley 71), Benny McGuinness (Colly Hyland 71), Gary McHugh (Brian Fogarty 59).
Referee: Kevin Conroy