Fermanagh Mallards bounced back from last weeks disappointing 5-0 league decider defeat at the hands of Comber Rec Ladies to comprehensively beat Craigavon and claim the Division 3 League Cup at Holm Park, Armagh.
The Mallards started well and managed to settle their nerves in the 4th minute, when the ball arrived at the feet of forward Eimear Keenan, and she managed to squeeze a shot under flailing Craigavon keeper Mairead Connolly to make it 1-0 with the first effort on goal.
Craigavon kept their heads up, and stayed in the game but after the first 10 min Fermanagh were on top, but only had the one shot to show for their dominance. Craigavon managed their first shot after 12 min, but it was a header from 15 yards that went well wide.
Keenan was seeing a lot of the ball early on, and 15 min broke past two players and got a shot away from a good position, but it went wide of the target. Two minutes later winger Naomi Cathcart was played clean through one on one with the keeper and would have had a clear shot on goal only to be denied by tremendous last ditch slide tackle from a backtracking Sacha Malone. The resulting corner was headed over from a yard by Ellie Rix.
Craigavon were defending reasonably well, especially down the left with captain Tina Matier, but they were unable to get the ball out of their own half. This continuous pressure from the Mallards paid off on 25 min when midfielder Louise Noble picked the ball up from deep, beat two players and hit a 25 yard dipping shot over the stranded Connolly to double her team's advantage.
Noble added a second two minutes later, when she again picked the ball up from deep and ran through the defence, this time slotting the ball past the keeper into the bottom corner, making it 3-0 on 27 minutes.
Forward Nicola Hynes really should have scored on 29 min when a free kick was played in and she ran through to beat the offside trap, only to volley into the arms of the well positioned Connolly. It didn't matter though, as the 4th came one minute later from the spot, when Matier mistimed a tackle on Cathcart in the box to concede a penalty, which wriggled in just under the bar from Keenan despite the keeper getting a hand to it.
Noble, Keenan and midfielder Cathy Dane all had good chances to further extend their already very healthy lead before the break, but were unable to put them away, leaving Fermanagh 4-0 to the good at half time.
Craigavon started better in the second half and a really nice passing move on 51 minutes led to forward Rebecca Lavery playing the ball across the goal to the unmarked Stephanie Potts, who had time to lash a shot towards the net, which hit the far post and rebounded along the line, but was hacked off the line to safety by Mallards captain Louise Thompson.
Craigavon were getting a foothold in the game and two minutes later they had a penalty themselves as Lavery was hacked down in the box after a smart advantage from the referee. Striker Kirsty Treanor stepped up and it hit it well, but keeper Cleona Bogue got a hand to it and palmed it back into the area. Treanor was not to be denied though as she calmly slotted the rebound past Bogue into the net to cut the deficit.
However that was it for Craigavon, as Fermanagh upped the tempo, and they grabbed two more goals in the next 10 minutes to completely quash any glimmer of hope Craigavon had after scoring. The first was a smart finish from Noble to complete her hat-trick when she was clean through, and the second was a sublime solo effort from substitute Alice Hurst, where she picked the ball up, beat a player, stopped, rolled another player, beat one final player and smashed a low shot into the net, giving Connolly no chance.
There were a few other chances for Fermanagh to extend their lead after this, but the rest of the game was over-shadowed by a seemingly innocuous challenge on Rix, who was then replaced as a precaution, but received first aid on the side lines and eventally required an ambulance.
The spark was taken out of the game at this point and it finished with a comprehensive 6-1 for the impressive Fermanagh Mallards, who not only finish the season with some deserved silverware, but will also begin next season promoted into Division 2 along with league winners Comber Rec.
Mallards manager Gareth McGuckin was very pleased with the result. “We were the better team all over the pitch tonight. It was good to get over the disappointment of losing the league decider, and we can finish the season with a trophy.”
The Mallards have a good core group of players, and McGuckin not only has sights on survival next season, but he believes his team can go all the way and challenge for the Division 2 title in their first year in the division. It will be interesting to see how far they can go.
Report & Photographs : Ben Hanna