Dollingstown’s brave bid to reach the Irish League was thwarted by the away goals rule after they lost the second leg play-off with Newington 2-1 last Friday night.
Leading 3-2 from the first leg, the Lurgan side were left to reflect on what might have been, but they can hold their heads high after producing two superb performances against the play-off favourites.
“We gave it our best shot,” said manager Gary Duke. “I had a gut feeling all those missed chances from the first leg would come back and cost us in the end. However, it was a brilliant effort from the boys. We were underdogs and before the first game it was all about the mighty Newington but I think we have more than shown that we are a good side and we have put Dollingstown FC on the map.
“It all came down to the away goal rule and you can’t get much closer than that.”
The game at The Cliff, Larne attracted a good crowd and Newington surged into the lead on six minutes when a mix-up between goalkeeper and defender saw a cross into the box from Brannigan clip off Chris Mackle and fly into the net.
That levelled the aggregate scores up but it was to get worse for the visitors on 26 minutes when slack marking allowed Bradley to head home from a tight angle.
Dollingstown had to dig deep and they did respond with a stunning equaliser 15 minutes before the break. Richard Thompson was brought down just outside the box and Neil Clydesdale showed his eye for goal with a great shot that flew in off the woodwork.
It was all to play for now as the game moved into the second half and surprisingly it was Dollingstown mostly on top as they went in search of that one vital goal that would seal victory and promotion.
That one chance fell to Brian Quilty midway through the half but keeper Dean Smyth made a point blank save which was to prove crucial at the final whistle.
Gary Duke’s men threw everything they had at the home team but they held out to claim the ultimate prize of promotion.
“Everyone was hurting after the game. We pushed on waiting for a chance and when it came you would have put your house on Brian. He is devastated he did not score, but no-one blames him. We are a team and over the season he has scored some vital goals for us and he has nothing to be upset about,” added Duke.
“While right now it is hard to take we must move on and take all the positives we can out of the experience. One of their players said it was the toughest two games they have had all season. The club has come a long way over the past few seasons and the road to the next level will continue.”