Laurence Toland caught fire off the bench again to help fire Cockhill Celtic to a remarkable SIXTH successive Four Lanterns Ulster Senior League crown.
Letterkenny Rovers 0 Cockhill Celtic 2
By Chris McNulty at Dry Arch Park. Pictures by Joe Boland, North West News Pix
Cockhill, who led through Ronan Doherty’s lovely first-half finish, had only just introduced Toland when the Ramelton man doubled the lead in the 62nd minute.
Ryan McConnell was caught in possession by Doherty, who found Toland wide on the left. From the most acute of angles, Toland – the hero of the hour on Saturday night when Cockhill defeated Rovers in the USL League Cup final – tucked low into the far corner.
It was a splendid finish and, just four minutes after scoring, Toland forced Rory Kelly, the Rovers goalkeeper, into taking him down in the area for a penalty that could have put the lid on it. But Kelly was equal to Mark Moran’s spot kick to give the Letterkenny men a glimmer of hope.
Rovers had forced a play-off with a 1-0 win in the final game of the season and a crowd of around 800 turned up to give a fitting backdrop for a titanic struggle.
The game could have turned another way just before Toland struck gold as Gavin Cullen wonderfully saved a goal-bound header from Kevin McGrath that seemed set to level the game.
Ten minutes from time, substitute Garbhan Grant headed over the top as Rovers sought a means of staging a late comeback, but it wasn’t to be as Cockhill had the spadework done and have extended their dominance of the local intermediate grade.
Cockhill last year emulated the great Fanad United team of 1994-98 in winning five-in-a-row, but the Inishowen men have eclipsed them now and have collected the League Cup in each of their six title winning seasons.
This was the fourth meeting of these sides in the last month, with Rovers having won the Knockalla Caravans Senior Cup final and also the final League game of the term, with Cockhill coming out on top in the League Cup final at the weekend.
Cockhill broke the deadlock on the half-hour. Gerry Gill’s treaded pass put Doherty in a race with McConnell and the Cockhill winger out-paced the former Manchester United youth.
Doherty still had Kelly to beat, but his lobbed finish was exquisite, dropping sweetly into the far corner and arrived as a hammer blow to Rovers.
In a cagey opener befitting of a contest with so much on the line, Cockhill just had the edge with Malachy McDermott driving off target after just five minutes before Gerard McLaughlin got his head to a Gill set-piece only to head off the post.
Four minutes before the break, Moran curled over the top as Cockhill seized on a mistake in the Rovers rearguard.
In the opening moments of the second half, Darren McElwaine was a hair away from connecting to Ryan Lonergan’s sweeping cross from the left as Rovers sought a means of getting back into the contest.
Cockhill player-manager Cullen kept faith with the same XI that started Saturday evening’s League Cup final, while the Rovers line-up showed four alterations.
Conor Tourish was absent due to holiday while David Shovlin missed out because of a suspension with Ryan Gildea and Chris Malseed coming back into the fold. Captain McElwaine was elevated to start in place of Declan Sharkey while Lonergan replaced Luke Nelis in further changes.
Just before Toland pounced, Cullen made a superb save to keep out McGrath’s header after he connected to Cillian Morrison’s centre.
Soon, though, Toland was wheeling away in delight after putting Cockhill two up and the game – and, with it, the title – too far out of Letterkenny Rovers’ reach.
Letterkenny Rovers: Rory Kelly; Ryan Gildea (Odhran McMacken 72), Ryan McConnell, Chris Flanagan; Ryan Lonergan, Chris Malseed, Christy Connaghan (Steve Okakpo-Emeka 67), Paul McVeigh; Darren McElwaine (Brian McVeigh 67), Cillian Morrison (Garbhan Grant 79).
Cockhill Celtic: Gavin Cullen; Marty Doherty (Ryan Kelly 68), Peter Doherty, Oisin McColgan, Jason Breslin; Gerry Gill, Liam O’Donnell (Jimmy Bradley 70), Malachy McDermott, Ronan Doherty; Gerard McLaughlin (Laurence Toland 60), Mark Moran (Paul McKinney 88).
Referee: Garvan Taggart.Tags: