Keeper Kelly spot on to ensure cup stays in Sligo
IS THERE any stopping the men from the west of Ireland these days?
As a Galway man - and a League of Ireland fan - prepares to move into áras an Uachtaráin, the town of Sligo should really start collecting money now to erect a statue to Mayo's finest, goalkeeper Ciaran Kelly, whose heroics made sure that the FAI Cup stayed in Sligo for a second successive year.
Yesterday at Lansdowne Road, 21,662 fans witnessed a finish to an enthralling game - a memorable match in spite of the best efforts of hapless referee Richie Winter to ruin the day - which even scriptwriters for Roy of the Rovers or TV's Dream Team would have deemed implausible.
In the end, the reserve team 'keeper came off the bench with seconds left in a cup final to save the day. With Sligo Rovers and Shelbourne level after 90 minutes of ordinary time and almost the full 30 minutes of added time, a penalty shoot-out beckoned.
Mindful of the fact that Kelly saved four penalties to help Sligo win the cup against Shamrock Rovers last season, manager Paul Cook made the remarkable decision to take off No1 keeper Brendan Clarke and replace him with Kelly, just for the shoot-out.
A gamble, maybe, but it paid off as Kelly saved penalties from Kevin Dawson and Colm James after letting in Shels' first kick from Karl Bermingham. However, Sligo boys Eoin Doyle, Richie Ryan, Alan Keane and Raff Cretaro converted theirs, so Sligo - despite being sub-par for much of the game against a 10-man Shels - won the cup 4-1 on penalties.
"My annual five minutes of fame," joked Kelly as he basked in the glory as Sligo's hero of the day.
"There was a bit of banter during the week but I didn't think it was going to happen. But after the 90 minutes of normal time the manager told me to make sure I was right, so I came in, did a little warm-up, listened to a few tunes to stay relaxed.
"It was hard on Clarkie. I know I'd be frustrated if I had come off but he's a good character and he wished me well when I came on.
"We had a penalty competition in training on Friday.
"I saved six in a row so that put it into concrete what could happen if it came to a penalty shoot out."
It could have all been so different if referee Winter had not made his horrendous mistake on 36 minutes, somehow judging that Barry Clancy's fall in the box was a dive and flashing Clancy his second yellow card of the game.
Shels were 1-0 up at that stage through Philly Hughes' 30th-minute opener and Shels were comfortable against an off-colour and uncharacteristically nervous Sligo side. But they were handed the advantage with Clancy's dismissal and then a 47th-minute equaliser from defender Iarflaith Davoren.
Phrases such as "a credit to the league" are bandied about but Shels were indeed a credit for their effort, work-rate and application, and their defender, Stephen Paisley, deservedly earned the man of the match award. But even the 30 extra minutes could not separate the sides and Kelly came up with the stuff that was needed.
"I'm happy for the town. It is starved of success and it would have been a crying shame if the club hadn't won a trophy this year. We played outstanding football and if we hadn't come away with a trophy it would have been disastrous," Kelly added, as Sligo now start the process of building for next season, with talks needed as the entire playing squad is officially out of contract as of today.