Jimmy Bradley’s seventh League goal of the season was met by a release of 81 minutes of sheer frustration as Cockhill Celtic moved within a point of the Ulster Senior League title.
Bonagee United 0 Cockhill Celtic 1
Bradley, just when it looked as if Bonagee were going to grind out a point, popped up to take Cockhill to the brink of a fifth successive USL crown.
Cockhill have wobbled of late and their lead had eroded down to just three points.
With Letterkenny Rovers breathing heavily on their necks, Gavin Cullen’s men scored a priceless victory at Dry Arch Park. Letterkenny must now win their final two games, against Finn Harps Reserves and Fanad United, and even then it won’t be enough if Cockhill manage to avoid defeat at Swilly on May 7th.
If tonight is anything to go by then they wont be handed the silverware in gift wrap.
Bonagee hassled, harried and hustled right to the finish and Gavin Cullen was within his rights to wonder at the end of it all: ‘Where was that Bonagee team all season?’
It was a legitimate question. From a good bit out, Bonagee’s season has petered out, but tonight they looked affronted by any hint that a side in fifth place, now 19 points off the leaders, would roll over.
Peter Moran’s team were far from obliging opponents and the natives around the Dry Arch will be asking the same question Cullen posed. A loftier perch would have been reached had they shown these kind of battling qualities before now.
Even the moment that finally broke their resistance will have left a haunting feeling for the locals, who played here like a side with everything to gain and nothing to lose.
With nine minutes left and with Cockhill growing restless, Bradley nipped in ahead of Bonagee full-back Taylor Russell, whose hesitancy was punished by Bradley as the midfielder fired past Gareth Wade.
Even after that, Bonagee could and maybe should have drawn level.
Wade did beat away a teaser from Ryan Varma, but in the dying moments Bonagee pushed Cockhill to the wire.
Young substitute Aaron Wasson went close and the home followers could almost see the net bulge when Aidan McLaughlin lined up the rebound but he too was blocked down.
The diminutive Wasson tried again and, with almost the final play of the game, Aidan McCauley’s cross whistled past Cullen’s post.
The early moments had McCauley involved heavily. First, McLaughlin just failed to get a touch to a McCauley drive before he slipped Matthew De Cook in on goal, but he rushed his attempt when he could have shown a little more composure.
Gerry Gill called Wade into action with a free before the ex-Finn Harps winger clipped over after beating the offside trap.
Garbhan Friel riffled wide and it was a game that had a nervy feel to it when De Cook clipped over the top just after the re-start.
Cockhill were getting edge and Gerard McLaughlin wasn’t far away from breaking the deadlock, with Wade tipping his header onto the goal-frame and over.
Friel took a touch too much after getting in around the back and Cockhill looked like they might just have to do it the hard way.
But, nine minutes from the end Bradley found a way – and their coronation now feels inevitable.
Bonagee United: Gareth Wade; Gareth Breslin, Darek Frankowski (Jamie Lynagh 70), Darren Hunter, Taylor Russell; Ryan Moran (Aaron Wasson 53), Chris Moran, Aidan McCauley, Matthew De Cook (Dylan O’Brien 79); Aidan McLaughlin, Dean Larkin.
Cockhill Celtic: Gavin Cullen; Paul McDermott, Gerard McLaughlin, Oisin McColgan, Peter Doherty; Derek Doherty, Ryan Varma, Jimmy Bradley, Gerry Gill; Garbhan Friel, Mark Moran (Darragh McDermott 86).
Referee: Marty McGarrigle.
|Derry City Reserves||16||7||2||7||31||26||5||23|
|Finn Harps Reserves||15||3||2||10||16||31||-15||11|
|* Cockhill Celtic awarded a 3-0 win after Derry City Reserves team deemed ineligible on Jan 22|