LURGAN Celtic upset the form book with a 1-0 win over Loughgall in the Bob Radcliffe Cup final on Boxing Day morning.
In front of a large crowd at Lakeview Park they defeated 10 times previous winners Loughall United in a pulsating final which kept the spectators gripped for the whole 90 minutes.
This victory means that the Hoops completed the competition without conceding a goal and just before the kick off the clubs young mascots took to the field wearing green tops with the name Creaney and no 9 on the back in a fitting tribute to the late Sean Creaney who played his last ever game at the same ground in the 2000 final.
Celtic were quickest out of the blocks and set up some dangerous attacks with Niall Lavery having a shot blocked and Raymond Fitzpatrick forcing a save out off Robinson in the Loughall goal.
Somehow Loughall survived the early onslaught and started to settle but got no change out of the Celtic back line of John Paul O’Hagan, Conor McAnallen, Ciaran McEvoy and Jonny McAreavey and by this stage Andrew Murnin was causing all sorts of problems with his strong running and tremendous aerial ability while Ronan O’Hara was pulling the strings in midfield.
Midway through the half the Hoops nearly took the lead when Murnin connected well with a corner but his header hit the post and was scrambled away and in another attack Lavery brilliantly stopped a move out of defence with a great tackle and bore down on goal but to the dismay of the large support struck the side netting with a crisp left foot shot.
A controversial moment occured when Aaron Haire broke through down the centre and just outside the box was fouled with many feeling a red card would have been in order but instead a yellow was shown and indeed this was the major topic of discusson at the interval.
Despite the promptings of Ferguson and Hawthorne in midfield Loughall made little impression on the Hoops defence and could consider themselves lucky not to be going in at the break two goals down.
Loughgall manager Colin Malone substituted two players at half time in a bid to add a cutting edge and the highly rated Marty Verner was one of those to make way as he had been totally anonymous in the opening period.
But after five minutes Celtic scored what would prove to be the winning goal. Loughall lost possession trying to bring the ball out of the right side of defence and the ball was swiftly transferred to Haire who ran across the edge of the box and slipped a pass to Murnin on the right. He took on the defender on the outside and ran on to smash the ball past Robinson from an acute angle to score a goal worthy of winning a final in any grade of football.
The Hoops supporters went wild and roared their team on to finish the game and Daniel Ryan, who had a quiet first half, now started to threaten down the left with several strong runs.
Loughall then started to apply pressure of their own with several dangerous attacks which were repelled but by halfway through the second half hadn’t given Ciaran Fox in the Celtic goal a single shot on target to save.
The second moment of controversy came when a Loughgall player made a silly tackle but only received a warning from the referee and was lucky stay on the pitch.
O’Hara received a yellow for a tackle which was less dangerous but Loughall failed to take advantage of the free and Ciaran McCann replaced him in a bid to shore up the Celtic midfield as the searing pace they had set was starting to tell.
Almost immediately McCann nearly scored. With the Loughall defence at sixes and sevens he hit a goalbound shot and somehow Robinson got a foot to the ball to clear and a tiring Haire, who had been suffering from tonsilitis prior to the game, came off to make way for Brendan Mackin with Murnin moving up front to partner Fitzpatrick.
The Hoops then came under heavy pressure as Loughall threw everything at them in a desperate attempt to rescue the game but despite this several shots went wide.
In one attack keeper Robinson came upfield for a corner and was stranded when it was cleared and the ball was played to McCann who moved upfield but by the time he got in a shot Robinson had got back and scrambled it away.
With time running out a high ball towards the Hoops defence came towards McEvoy with Keenan lurking nearby and he elected to wait for the ball to drop rather than head it but he miscued and missed the ball completely and a Loughall player was on it in a flash but hit his shot just wide of the far post to the relief of Celtic supporters an players alike.
Shortly afterwards time was called to end a thrilling final which despite the narrow margin was well deserved by Celtic who were worth a wider winning margin.
Andrew Murnin was quite rightly awarded Man Of The Match after an all round quality performanceand this can take pride of place in his trophy cabinet along side the similar award he received after the 2009 All Ireland Minor Final.
As captain Fitzpatrick went up to receive the trophy the large Celtic support went delirious with joy after suffering many disappointments over the past years to see their side lift the trophy for the first time since 1997 when that particular side, rated by many the best that ever represented the club, was winning trophys as routine.
But it is beginning to look like Ciaran O’Kane and Tony Creaney have started to mould a new golden generation.
Time will tell if this is true but now that the breakthrough has been made the club have the hunger to build on this and the fact that the team beat three Championship 1 sides to win this cup augers well for this bunch of players.
Finally thanks to the Mid Ulster FA for the efficient running of what proved to be a very successful day and it was great to have it played at its rightful time instead of suffering the weather influenced postponements of recent years.
After a night of celebrations held in the packed clubrooms attended by the team, committee and supporters including several of the last team to make the final its back to league action with a mouthwatering top of the table clash away to Annagh Utd.on New Years Eve at 2pm where both sides will be looking to enhance their league standing in the quest for promotion.