Veteran John O’Flynn set Finn Harps on the road to a 2-0 victory against Cobh Ramblers at a freezing St Colman’s Park on Saturday night.
This meeting between Ireland’s southernmost and northernmost League sides will not go down as a classic and if it survives in the memory of those who witnessed it, it is considerably more likely to do so on account of the brutal cold than for the quality of the game. But to blame the clubs, or the footballers they sent out, would be unjust.
From the first whistle it was clear that the pitch was in no condition to encourage elegance, or even to tolerate simple pass and move football. Add in arctic temperatures and a biting wind and it is to everybody’s credit that any kind of football was attempted at all.
The opening half was, as the cliche goes, a scrappy affair. There were very few passages of coherent play and physical domination, rather than technical superiority, became the common aim.
Harps had the better chances before the turnaround with Michael O’Connor seeing his effort from the edge of the box deflected for a corner on 11 minutes. The same player created another opportunity five minutes later when seizing control of the ball on the halfway line before storming forward and placing a shot narrowly wide of Paul Hunt’s goal.
That, sadly, was that in terms of excitement in the first half and when former Celtic talisman Paddy McCourt limped off on the stroke of half time, it was not hard not to imagine that any pain felt was somewhat softened by the realisation that he would be spared the second half.
As it turned out the second period was much better. Cobh’s Ian Mylod lobbed a 40-yard cross/shot just inches over Ciaran Gallagher’s bar before Ciaran O’Connor put the ball into the Cobh net only to be flagged off-side.
Just after the hour John O’Flynn demonstrated how difficult the conditions were when he had to travel across the full width of the Cobh box simply because, at no point, would the ball run smoothly enough that he could get a shot away.
Cian Leonard came close for Cobh after 68 minutes while O’Flynn’s snap-volley tested Hunt a minute later. With just 19 minutes left Cobh sub, Kevin Taylor timed his run perfectly to meet Darren Murphy’s looping cross, but had to watch in despair as his effort beat Gallagher before trickling narrowly wide of the far post.
Four minutes later Pierce Philips forced Gallagher into a superb diving save with a header that would otherwise have given Cobh the lead. But six minutes after that it was Harps who were celebrating.
A free from the right was met beyond the back post by Michael O’Connor, who turned the ball back across goal where John O’Flynn was waiting to prod home from six yards out and break the deadlock.
Cobh threw everything forwards in response. This can leave teams exposed at the back but Cobh looked in little danger of conceding a second until added time when a seemingly straightforward situation between Paul Hunt and defender Adam O’Sullivan went badly wrong. Ciaran O’Connor was left with a simple finish to an empty net to put the result beyond doubt.
Cobh Ramblers: Paul Hunt; Charlie Fleming, Adam O’Sullivan, Ben O’Riordan, James McSweeney, Ian Mylod (Kevin Taylor 64); Darren Murphy, Pierce Philips, Anthony McAlavey; Cian Leonard, Andrew Wall (David Hurley 69).
Subs Not Used: Adam Mylod (gk), Stephen Christopher, Jaze Kabia, John Dineen, Denzil Fernandes.
Booked: McSweeney (80).
Finn Harps: Ciaran Gallagher; Mark Coyle, Keith Cowan, Sam Todd, Ciaran Coll; Ciaran O’Connor, Paddy McCourt (Lee Toland 45), Thomas McBride, Mark Timlin; John O’Flynn (Adam Duffy 90), Michael O’Connor.
Subs Not Used: Jamie Bell (gk), Eric Whelan, Aidan Friel, Jessie Devers, Mark Hannon.
Referee: David Keeler.
Attendance: 200 (estimate)
Extratime Man of the Match: Michael O’Connor (Finn Harps)