THE Swifts Reserves travelled to Ardmore Playing Fields in Armagh following the weather induced break.
They were eager to pick up three points against a Tullyvallen side who are always a threat with their physical style of play.
The Swifts Reserves went into the game knowing that a win could put an end to the Tullyvallen title challenge.
Rathfriland started brightly winning the individual battles first and it took about 20 minutes before a clear opening was carved out. Ryan Hillen was sent through from midfield but his effort was straight at the ‘Vallen keeper.
Moments later Conan Power was sent clear, he jinked into the box but the keeper stood up well, Power turned but his left footed effort was too weak and was cleared from the line.
The remainder of the half saw the visitors do most of the pressing, with Tullyvallen limited to long range efforts and dead ball threats, all of which were dealt with easily by Jackson, Lawson and Scott. Rathfriland continued to press, using the flanks well, however the quality of the final ball was lacking meaning chances were few.
The second half started in similar fashion, the midfield of Rathfriland dominating the possession and good link up from Gary O’Reilly and Ryan Hillen saw the latter through again, only to be denied by the impressive home keeper.
At the other end a counter attack saw Lenny called upon, he saved superbly from a one on one to keep the score level. Moments later the deadlock was broken when Tullyvallen broke to the by-line and cut the ball back, the finish was an easy one.
With half an hour remaining the character of the league leaders was to be tested, but they stuck to their game, moving the ball quickly around the ‘Vallen midfield and searching for a route through the resilient defence. In a neat move Tumility was cut down on the edge of the area. The free-kick was set up by Ryan Hillen who drilled a strong effort through a gap in the wall and into the bottom corner. The visitors retrieved the ball with urgency, the desire to get the winner was clear to see.
In the final ten minutes the Swifts pressed Tullyvallen back into their own area, pushing for the winner. Efforts from Gary O’Reilly, Power, and Paul Hillen were all blocked. A great delivery from a Tumility corner met the head of Jackson, only for his powerful header to bounce off the post.
It looked like it was going to be one of those days, but frustration turned to elation at 90 minutes when a Ryan Hillen effort was fumbled by the home keeper and Cathal Tumility was sharpest, poking the loose ball over the line. Rathfriland battled for the remaining minutes, showing great team spirit and togetherness, the final whistle brought celebrations from the Swifts Reserves at the 2-1 victory.
Champions rarely go through a season without grinding out results and come May the Swifts Reserves will surely look back on this fixture as a pivotal one. Attention will now turn to the Cup, where the Swifts Reserves face higher league opposition in Tullygally with the intention of keeping the double dream alive.
Team: Liam McGivern, James Lawson, Connell Jackson, Alex Scott, Daryl O’Reilly, Conan Power, Paul Hillen, Cathal Tumility, Niall Maginn, Ryan Hillen and Gary O’Reilly. Subs: Stephen Parsons & Andy Scott.