Champions at Last!
By A R
Ardmore U11's were crowned champions in a pulsating Play Off Final against a gritty Esker Celtic. The winning goal came with the last kick of the game
Another final. The opposition, Esker Celtic. A team who inflicted Ardmore's only defeat during playing time of the entire season, just 10 days earlier. The prize was league champions.
We were about to find out if Ardmore truly recovered from the scars of the cup final that was so cruelly taken from them back in early May.
Despite wind and rain that was more fitting to a January morning, both sides were eager to play this decider....so it was Game on.
Right from the get go Ardmore set the pace of the game. Eoin vindicated the decision to start him in right mid by being a real thorn in the side of Esker.
Early into the game Eoin broke free up the wing by playing a 1 - 2 with Evan, beat the Esker defence and delivered a brilliant cross which Oscar caught on the volley. The Esker keeper must have been relieved to see the ball take the paint off the post and sail wide.
And so the story for most of the first half.
Daniel worked hard from the front supported by the pacy and skillfull Tim playing in Midfield and was unlucky not to get a decent break.
The Esker goalkeeper, is one of the best in league and he had to work hard time and time again to stop Ardmore taking advantage.
The Ardmore defense were all superb. History showed us how strong Esker were on the break, but they had a lot of work to do.
Cian played his best match of season and was calm and strong in his tackles and passes. He also made the Esker 'keeper work numerous times with some fine shots on target.
The reliable duo of Oscar and Evan made life so difficult for Esker's attackers, however the safe hands of Finn in goal reminded Esker that they were not the only team with a brilliant goalkeeper when they did get a chance to get a shot on target.
An exhausted Daniel was replaced with Ryan. Very quickly Ryan got up to the pace of the game used his strength, speed and persistence and found himself one on one with the keeper. Luckily for Esker, their keeper came to rescue once again.
One more change before half time. An exhausted Eoin was replaced with the brilliant passing skills of Jason who continued to help the team apply pressure on Esker.
Oscar fired in some really great corners but unfortunately Ardmore could not capitalise. An area for improvement on the training ground.
THalf Time and time for the Oranges. 2 pieces of advise from the coaches. Keep doing what your doing and eat some oranges. The Goal will come. (We promised them).
More fresh legs. Joe came on to play up front, backed up by Ryan.
Brilliant work was being done and Ardmore still kept the lions share of possession. Both Ryan and Joe were unlucky not to score. The rain continued and the puddle, now in front of the Esker keeper continued to get bigger.
Still the team took the advice of the coaches. They kept their shape and kept their discipline. They didn't question the ref decisions.
Somehow Finn found an extra 7 or 8 yards in his kick-outs and Esker struggled to deal with them, allowing Ardmore to continually test their goalkeeper. Was this dual becoming a match of who had the best keeper?
Joe and Ryan were being beaten by an ever growing penalty area puddle and a keeper. Everything else was going to plan.
10 mins to go Ardmore had 1 more card to play. The energetic Sam replaced Jason who had been very effective in marking one of Esker's fastest players.
As always, Sam wasted no time putting his mark on the game. He made tough tackles and put some great balls into the box.
Tim replaced the shattered but brilliant Oscar in the holding position and Daniel was now back up front. The rested Eoin was back on as well.
Finn held his nerve while dealing with some long range but well placed shots by Esker. Evan and Cian, whom neither had received a break in the match, were 2 rocks at the back despite Esker throwing everything they had at them.
The clock had pretty much ran out but the flow of the game was still with Ardmore. Time for one last attack.
Was the Coaches Promise at half time going to be broken?
The players had done everything they were asked to do and more, yet the goal we promised hadn't come.
Next thing, GOOOOAAALLLL.
The huge support on the Ardmore sideline went berserk. Parents were hugging, cheering and crying. Some were rolling around in the muck. Grandparents, Uncles, Aunties, Brothers, Sisters, Club committee members , Fixture Sectaries all had their moment of euphoria.
Daniel, one of the few players on the pitch that can actually turn on a sixpence and still control the ball, had received it in front of the Esker Keeper. He did what he does best and turned on a sixpence, firing the ball to the 'keepers right.
The Esker Keeper was finally beaten, and with the celebrations still on-going, the Final whistle blew.
Ardmore had got their rewards. The Esker coach and his players took the loss with dignity and quite rightly noted that we will be meeting again and will continue to have some excellent duels.
The risky pre-made Champions T-shirts were put to use and the coaches for once, were proved right in their half time analysis.
It's said that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.
Ardmore Rovers had indeed recovered from those scars.
Well done to all the boys!