WINNING GOAL Castlebar Celtic’s Jordan Loftus chips Athenry goalkeeper TJ Forde in the 89th minute of last weekend’s Connacht Cup last 16 clash. Pic: Francis Beirne/EIREFOTO
Castlebar Celtic 1
J Loftus 89
WITH precision timing Jordan Loftus struck in the final minute as Castlebar Celtuc upset the odds and despatched Athenry from the Connacht Junior Cup at the last 16 stage on Sunday.
In a cracking contest in Moanbawn, both sides contributed to an end-to-end contest, and while the home side will rue their failure to take even one of the many chances they created, Celtic were not without their opportunities either.
However, huge credit must go to the respective goalkeepers TJ Forde and Sean Pugh whose heroics kept the game scoreless until a dramatic late breakthrough.
With Castlebar very much under the kosh in the closing stages, another clearance from their defence drew Forde well outside his area to head away. His misdirected header however fell at the feet of Loftus and the lethal striker accepted the gift as he lobbed the stricken goalkeeper to make it 1-0 with 89 minutes elapsed.
The closing stages were more back to the wall defending for Celtic, but with Cillian McNeela, Ruairi Nevin, Ioseph O’Reilly and Mark Howley giving nothing away at the back, they survived the closing onslaught as Colm O’Donovan, Jason Gorham and Aaron Leggett were all just off target from close range in those additional minutes.
The action was frantic from the opening exchanges as Cole Connolly headed wide for Athenry before in the next attack, Loftus was thwarted by a smart Forde save and as he also put the rebound over the bar.
The same duo went head-to-head on 28 minutes with the goalkeeper’s reflexes keeping out a back heel, before Pugh spread himself well to keep out an O’Donovan effort at the other end.
The half ended as O’Donovan and Hay missed from close range and the interval didn’t deminish the attacking prowess of the sides, as Celtic were denied a breakthrough on 52 minutes when Loftus had a header kept out by Forde.
Now just like in the opening half, Athenry improved as time elapsed and were certainly the more threatening side on the resumption.
However, their lack of a proven goalscorer proved to be their downfall and numerous chances went abegging as Connolly, O’Donovan and Adam Duffy failed to find the required finesse in front of goal. It was Duffy who went closest to a breakthrough, but his cracking left footed effort rebounded off a post on 86 minutes.
At the other end, Loftus and Jason Hunt were really starved of possession at this stage but tried to make the most of the few opportunities that came their way. Forde denied Loftus with another stop, before the goalkeeper lost his bearing and failed to gather a set piece delivery, but the lurking striker could not direct his header from a tight angle on target.
Now the loss of main striker Cathal Fahy to injury was proving to be a huge disadvantage to Athenry and his goalscoring ability was sorely felt as chance after chance went a begging.
That extravagancewas to cost them dearly, as they kept their leading scorer under wraps for their upcoming FAI Junior Cup semi-final against Fairview Rangers.
Eventually, the value of a striker with an eye for goal paved the way for Celtic’s success as Jordan Loftus struck for the match winner.
Michael McNicholas side will have to make a return journey to Galway for the quarter-final as they face Salthill Devon in Drom next Sunday.
TJ Forde, G O’Connell, A Leggett, J de Silva, N Ward, R Moran, R Shaughnessy, G Broughall, A Duffy, C Connolly, C O’Donovan.
Subs used: J O’Driscoll for Moran (76 mins); J Gorham for Connolly (76 mins).
S Pugh, R Nevin, M Howley, I O’Reilly, S Walsh, G Hunt, J Cocozza, A Wahab, J Loftus, J Hunt, L Hay.
Subs used: C McNeela for Walsh (35 mins, inj).
Referee: Mark Lynch (Galway).