FAI Intermediate Cup Semi Final
Tolka Rovers 0
Avondale FC 2
By Jonny Stapleton
There were sprinklers, a tannoy salute and even red and white balloons as Tolka Rovers welcomed a large and expectant crowd to Frank Cooke Park yesterday, but it was Avondale United who pulled out all the stops when it mattered most and progressed to a record breaking fifth consecutive FAI intermediate final
A man sporting a name synonymous with goal scoring in North Dublin, Ian Stapleton bagged a second half brace to ensure The Rebels history making assault rolls on.
Avondale are now on course to become the second ever team to win a competition that boasts victors as high profile as Bray Wanderers, Bohemians, Shelbourne and St Patrick’s Athletic four years on the bounce, after now defunct Distillery won it four times way back in 1939-42.
While four looks to be the magic number for the Cork side it is anything but for Tolka Rovers boss man Paul Doyle as for the fourth year running the the Munster Senior League champions inflicted Intermediate Cup misery on one of his teams.
Having watched The Blues deal with rather than destroy nearby neighbours Home Farm Belgrove, who compete a division below Rovers in the LSL, their was an air of confidence amongst the home support and they had the bookie slips to back it up.
But it took less than four minutes for them to realise their cork counterparts haven’t suffered from the departure of long time manager John Caulfield’s to Cork City.
The visitors looked OCD organised at the back and handled an early on onslaught with relative ease. Mark Horgan blocked early from Shane Hughes, seconds before he did enough to prevent Noel Murray from getting a clean head on a corner and minutes before he put out another Hughes started fire.
Once the initial early home burst was dealt with the visitors set about asking some defensive questions of their own and nearly took the lead 11 minutes in when Kenny Murphy whipped in after a short corner and placed the ball on the head of Stapleton. He met the ball with the same conviction as his namesake Frank Stapleton, but lacked accuracy and rattled the bar from eight yards out.
Rovers took heed and tried to up the tempo and pass their way into dominance, but Avondale where better drilled than a hole left by a Bosch PS4000 power tool.
Without the ball they all but riverted to five at the back doubling up on potential danger man Lee Dixon and making the Hughes brothers more Blues brothers by thwarting their usually lethal link up play.
In Stapleton and Danny Long Avondale also had two players that could hold up the ball and relieve the pressure and in Graham McCarthy they boast a midfielder with an eye for a pass and as the half wore on all three became more influential.
However neither side really managed to create any chance of note before the turn with another blocked Mark Hughes effort and a untouched Micheák Mulconry cross the only attacks worth a mention.
It was Tolka’s defensive capabilities that came to the fore early in the second half as Noel Murray looked almost insulted as Mark Horgan was winning the tough man stakes and put in some big tackles. O’Neill then produced a brilliant sliding tackle to deny Danny Long a shot on target before Morgan Cranley produced a fine reflex save to deny Long again before the off side flag would have.
Then fact that such rear guard action was a more last ditch cure than preventive intervention was a worry for the hosts, but the opening goal came it came from a manner which would have infuriated Doyle.
A Tolka corner was punched clear by Daniel O’Leary, who despite not having to make a save outside of the routine boasted an assured confident air, fell to the feet of Ray Long. The winger / wing back volleyed a clearance in the direction of Stapleton and when the ball was allowed to bounce the impressive front man out muscled his man and headed over the advancing keeper.
The man the call ‘Chubbs’ wasn’t quiet doing the truffle shuffle minutes later but he was wildly celebrating another goal. Another route one ball was allowed bounce, this time straight from the hands of O’Leary and the striker volleyed from the left hand corner of the box into the keepers left hand top corner to double The Rebel advantage.
The visitors were buzzing and Stapleton had a hat trick chance moments later but fired straight at Cranley from a tight angle after a Danny Long lay off. Kenny Murphy then had a shot deflect over before Graham McCarthy tried to rub further salt into the wounds with a cheeky lob from half way that skimmed the cross bar.
Tolka did attempt response but they struggled to create and their supporters only had a side footed Dennis Moran effort that went wide to shout about before Adam Crowther glanced a header from 7 yards across rather than into the goal.