Pike Rovers ambitions of landing three trophies this season were ended by St. Michaels in the Munster Junior Cup Final at Jackman Park after a dramatic sudden death penalty shoot-out.
The Limerick outfit were looking to become the third club in the history of the competition to win the Munster Junior Cup three years in a row. Fellow Limerick clubs Star Rovers and Fairview have achieved the feat in the past.
However, penalty heartache was to consume The Hoops once more. They have now lost three major matches from five in the dreaded penalties.
Mike Sheil’s side started brightly and should have taken the lead in the opening quarter as Paddy O’Malley’s dangerous cross was headed against the crossbar at the back-post by Eoin Hanrahan as he looked destined to score.
St. Michaels reacted to the early scare and midfielders Shane Ryan and Colin Bargary were beginning to dominate proceedings.
There were doubts about the fitness of star player Jimmy Carr before the game but the winger made his mark when Pike were caught in possession in their own half and the pacey Carr was played through on goal and slid the ball beneath the advancing Gary Neville to put the visiting side in the lead.
Pike struggled to gain a foothold in the second period and in truth, James Walsh side looked the more likely to extend their lead.
Many long balls from Pike’s panicked stricken back four towards Johnathan Grant were easily dealt with by the physically dominant centre-back pairing of Paul Breen and Sean Guerins.
With ten minutes remaining, it looked as if all hope had vanished for the Hoops. However, the late introduction of Jason Mullins restored hope as the physical approach from Mullins resulted in St.Michaels losing the composure which they had held all game.
Midfielders Ryan and Bargary became involved in a number of skirmish’s with Mullins and the Saints began to retreat and invite pressure.
In dramatic fashion, Sheil’s side grabbed a highly unlikely equaliser as a hopeful cross from Stephen McGann was dropped by goalkeeper Adrian Walsh which allowed the arriving Colin Daly to prod home from close range, queue scenes of jubilation from the Pike support.
It was an uneventful extra-time period as both sides were beginning to tire and feel the effects of the previous 90 minutes.
However, Michaels almost scored with the last attack of the second period as Sean Guerins powerfully headed a corner just wide of Neville’s goal. Referee Pat Gleeson blew the whistle to signal penalties.
Both goalkeepers were in inspired form in the shoot-out. Neville had ensured Pike’s passage against Newmarket in the semi-final with three stops.
Neville’s save put Pike in a position to win on two occasions but both Pat Mullins and Johnathan Grant failed to capitalise as we went to sudden death.
There was heartbreak for the Hoops and their netminder when he was asked to take the eight penalty but blasted his effort low and wide to the despair of the ‘home’ support and to the delight of their opponents. It was hard on Neville who couldn’t have done anymore to help his side to victory.
St. Michaels have now won the Munster Junior Cup on a record nine occasions. Pike now have to lift themselves as they face Fairview Rangers in the final of the Lawson Cup on Sunday at Jackman Park (11am).
The sides have been involved in close games all season including a 2-2 draw at the Fairgreen while Pike defeated their arch-rivals in the semi-final of the Tuohy Cup in a penalty shoot-out after another 2-2 draw.