Tom Hand Challenge Cup
Sheriff once again proved they are Junior only in name as they banked their first piece of silverware in what is effectively the opening day of the season.
The decorated Premier A side, not for the first time, beat Intermediate opposition to win the battle of the FAI Junior and FAI Intermediate champions lifting the Tom Hand Trophy in the process.
Without the likes of the departed John Lester as well as Darren Dunne and particularly John Rock, who most likely have been given an extended break considering the amount of games they played in recent years, there was a slightly different look to Sheriff and indeed how they played, but the result was the same.
Two first half goals and a relatively assured display was enough to see them defeat near by rivals Liffey Wanderers.
There was a pedestrian start to the Inner City derby. No big tackles or hectic running as both elected to try play ball. Sheriff did seem more in control with Stephen ‘Bones’ Murphy particularly impressing from the base of a midfield three, but early chances were at a premium.
Sheriff did eventually take the lead on 18 minutes as their ‘think out side the box’ approach reaped ultimate reward.
Stephen Murphy found Philly Hand, who like Philip Lam was moved from full back to midfield by the Pep of the amateur game Alan Reilly, on the edge of the area. The former Killester player rolled back to the midfielder and when the closing cover dropped off retook possession, set himself and fired home through the crowd from 21 yards.
Leon Hayes, who along with Felix Barez provided Sheriff with effective width in the first half, then had two sighters saved as Sheriff upped the gears.
Wanderers, who themselves had a few fresh faces and old ones in new roles, then showed why they are renowned as a good footballing team and one to watch out for in the LSL second tier next season.
A lovely first time ball from Conor Riddick found the lively Niku Kalandarishvili, his dangerous ball was meet by the sliding Lee Roche at the back post, but Paul Lynch, who was replaced by Lee Murphy at half time, was out smartly to save well.
Without hold up expert John Rock Sheriff played a front two of Sean Murphy and Lee Featherson and their pace was causing problems, but not problems Kenneth Roche and Adam Deegan in-particular couldn’t deal with. The new centre half pairing produced some fine covering and blocks to ensure their side remained in contention going into the second half of the first period. 1 also produced a brilliant reflex save from Featherson, but the effort wouldn’t of counted as the flag blustered in the air as soon as the keeper was receiving plaudits.
The defence’s hard work nearly rewarded soon after as Liffey’s produced one of the moves of the half to create a great chance.
Kalandarishvili done brilliantly to chase back and win possession after his touch had forced Liffey’s to lose the ball, the tricky wide man pinged into the feet of Dean Gannon, who had a great touch for a big man moment as he cushioned the charging Gary Young through on goal. The midfielder lifted the ball over the advancing net minder, but his effort skidded wide of the left hand post.
The FAI Intermediate Champions, who beat Sheriff in the FAI Junior Cup final three seasons ago, were soon left the rue the miss further.
Joe O’Neill finally saw his request for a throw not to be gambled down the line meet and Paul Murphy threw infield to Stephen Murphy, the midfielder turned, feed hand, who picked his head up and picked out the run of Wayne Waldron.
The former Hardwicke player, who has been impressing in the Tommy Celments Cup, controlled well on the edge of the box and produced a good finish under pressure to extend the lead to two.
Sean Murphy had a chance to make it three when two brilliant improvised touches, one with his head and one with his right boot saw him close in on goal, but after doing the hard work he dragged his shot across goal and Sheriff had to settle for a two goal cushion at the break.
Liffey’s had a bit more bite about them after the turn and were full of running and effort. However, they seemed to struggle for numbers and composure in the final third. Young front man Gannon looked an isolated figure at times and on occasion they just feed Kalandarishvili, sat back and hoped for a bit of magic.
It was a tactic that was bemoaned by some support, but it was soon clear to see why the trusted the player, who has scored four Tommy Clements goals, to produce.
The wide man levelled the game in style 20 minutes after the restart. Phillip Uzell took a dangerous Stephen Murphy free into his grasp, quickly threw out to Young, who spotted Kalandarishvili cutting in off the right and played him beautifully in down the middle. The player relatively unknown on the amateur circuit took a touch under pressure, set himself just inside the area and fired left footed into the top corner.
The goal gave the team south of the Liffey a bit of extra pep, but it wasn’t long before Sheriff were dominating possession again.
The Premier A Champions didn’t create too much, but did manage to ensure their opponents didn’t have too much ball in areas where they could do damage. They also forced Liffeys to defend and began to tire out a back four that looked relatively impressive throughout.
Liffey’s did mount a late late onslaught and threw defender Gary Young on up top late on, but Sheriff dealt with the two half chances that created and killed the game off effectively to make sure they retained the Tom Hand.