Rathfriland Rangers Reserves claimed the bragging rights with a thumping win over league rivals Banbridge Rangers Reserves in what was a feisty derby game at a bitterly cold Iveagh Park.
With Rathfriland Rangers’ league fixture on Saturday postponed, the club’s second string benefited by integrating some of the first team squad into their starting line-up.
It was the away team who took an unlikely lead when left winger Wayne McAllister was played in behind Rathfriland’s back line and had the awareness to square for Jason Gourley when his angles were narrowed by the keeper leaving the ‘Gers frontman with the easiest of tap ins.
That immediately kickstarted Rathfriland into life, and straight from the restart the lively Thomas Lockhart exchanged a neat one-two with striker James Costello on the edge of the box and rounded ‘keeper Jonathan Parkes to level the scores.
Rathfriland edged ahead moments later when Costello made a run down the channel and crossed for Lockhart to finish expertly with a piercing first-time strike.
That one-goal lead soon became 3-1 when Phily Main’s powerful header from Lockhart’s free-kick found the back of the net.
And there was barely time to blink before the muscular Heslip tucked the ball away from close range to make it four after Phily Main’s initial effort was saved on the line.
Remarkably, Rathfriland scored a fifth before half-time, when hard-working skipper Andy Stewart was picked out by a great cross from Lee McDowell, and he bundled the ball home from a yard out.
The opening quarter of the second half belonged to Banbridge Rangers who had made two changes at half time with Weir and McKnight both entering the fray.
A rasping shot from Dean Gordon was deflected past the upright three minutes into the half followed by a spurned chance by McKnight who danced past several challenges before firing over from a close but narrow angle.
The next goal was a Rathfriland one, when Costello found space on the edge of the box, swivelled and simply passed the ball into the corner of the net from 20 yards.
And Costello doubled his tally when Lockhart played a delightful ball over the top for him to race on to, round the advancing stopper and slot home.
To their credit, Banbridge rallied and scored with about 20 minutes remaining.
McKnight’s glorious pass released Weir down the right wing and his whipped cross was side-footed in on the volley from eight yards by Stuart Cairns, giving Gracey no chance.
The consolation goal by Cairns was one of the better finishes on the day but it was to be of little comfort to Banbridge Rangers who had played well but ultimately came up against superior opposition.
With snow, hail, rain and driving winds all making an appearance at some point during the game, both sets of players were glad to hear the sound of the final whistle.