Clarence Cup heartbreak for Rathfriland Rangers

Rathfriland Rangers in action in the Clarence Cup.
Rathfriland Rangers in action in the Clarence Cup.
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Rathfriland Rangers were brought back to earth with a bang after their recent heroic Irish Cup displays as Bryansburn Rangers struck twice in extra time to dump the Whites out of the Clarence Cup.

Despite taking an easy lead through Marty Havern, a needless penalty given away by captain Conor Larkin and scored by Mark Coard allowed the Burn back into the game before the break.

Rathfriland Rangers in action at Iveagh Park.

Rathfriland Rangers in action at Iveagh Park.

And as the sides battled on the muddy surface, there was little to split them until Mark Ballentine and Andy Thompson hit the net just as the game looked set to go to spot-kicks.

Losing to a team two league divisions below them was not what the Whites would have envisaged, especially having taken the fight to Irish Premiership champions Crusaders the previous week.

But Bangor club Bryansburn have impressed in cup competitions this season, defeating three much higher ranked clubs, and now they were able to add a fourth in the shape of Rathfriland.

From the outset, it looked like Rathfriland would be in for a stroll.

Havern’s goal came in the opening 10 minutes after a clever but straightforward move that looked all too easy to execute.

But the Burn were not going to lie down and they began seizing possession and applying pressure, even if it largely came to nothing.

Around the half-hour mark, they were handed a penalty when Larkin slid in to tackle Coard as he drove into the box, but it was a hopeless and dreadfully timed challenge.

Board picked himself up and slotted the kick just beyond the reach of Shane Harrison, the Rathfriland goalkeeper.

Clear-cut chances from that point on were few and far between, the majority of the game being played out in the middle of the park, which was cutting up quickly.

Midway through the second half, as Rathfriland toiled for another goal, Conor Fegan hit a strike but it looped up on to the crossbar after a timely intervention from defender Matty Storey, who hurt himself in the process.

And Fegan and Wilson combined inside the box as the clock ticked towards 90 minutes, with each having an effort stopped superbly by Burn goalkeeper Gavin Robb, who also stretched to keep out a shot from Larkin.

It all summed up the Whites’ afternoon - close but not close enough.

More time was needed to pick a winner, and five minutes into extra time Bryansburn dealt the Whites a crucial blow.

As the ball bobbled around in a scramble at the Rathfriland goalmouth, Ballentine poked a leg out to divert the ball past Harrison to give the NAFL Division 1C side the advantage.

And in the second period of extra time, as Rathfriland threw defenders and goalkeeper forward in the hunt for a leveller from a run of set pieces, the Burn broke free and Thompson slid the ball into an empty net, sparking wild celebrations from their players, staff and fans.

It was a hard-fought and deserved victory.

As for Rathfriland, the disappointment with the performance was written across the players’ faces.

But if there is one positive to take, it means that finally the Whites will be able to address the pile-up of league fixtures they have ahead of them, and now full focus can switch to title assault.

Rathfriland Rangers: Shane Harrison, Jake Redpath, Conor Larkin, Aaron Black, Nathan Baird, Conor Fegan, Lee Feeney, Ross Black, Thomas Lockhart, Marty Havern, Alastair Wilson. Subs: James Costello, Blaine Hughes, Jonathan Scannell.