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DE LA SALLE COLLEGE - CHAMPIONS AGAIN

Updated: Mar 16



De La Salle College are U16 champions once again after a nail-biting penalty shoot-out win over a talented Grosvenor Grammar School at a breezy but sunny Blanchflower Stadium. Conor Ward's winning penalty sent the hundreds of De La Salle supporters into a delirious celebration, adding to the penalty he scored in normal time.


Yet this wasn't a one-man show, with several players vying for man-of-the-match over the 100 minutes. Grosvenor played with the wind in the first half in conditions which made it extremely difficult for defenders and goalkeepers. La Salle were on the defensive from the start with goalkeeper Kiernan McKenna claiming a dangerous free-kick as well as an awkward corner in the opening minutes.


The opening 20 minutes witnessed immense defensive performances from Daire Tracey, Rhys McCloskey, and Paul Austin. Many dangerous Grosvenor attacks were repeatedly repelled by the trio, with captain Conlai Mervyn showing leadership with several headed clearances.


With the wind in their faces, DLSC found it hard to make headway into the Grosvenor defence as the East Belfast school kept their opponents pinned back in their own half. Ryan Conlon tracked back in the 20th minute to make an important defensive tackle, which was swiftly followed by a crucial block by Daire Tracey to stop a goalbound effort.


With De La Salle's defence working hard to keep their opponents out successfully, it wasn't until the 30th minute that this pressure was relieved as Conor Ward and Ryan Conlon began to forge a partnership in attack. However, the strong breeze meant Grosvenor could counterattack at pace, with Daire Tracey and Paul Austin preventing dangerous chances in defence.


A rare De La Salle corner saw a Conlai Spencer header worry the Grosvenor defence with five minutes of the half left. This warning shot was followed up by the first major moment of the game. The increasingly influential Conor Ward dribbled his way into the box and was brought down as he was about to shoot. Ward dusted himself down and fired home the resulting penalty into the bottom right-hand corner in injury time of the first half.


HALF TIME: DE LA SALLE COLLEGE 1 GROSVENOR GRAMMAR SCHOOL 0


With the wind now at their backs, it was expected that La Salle would begin to dominate proceedings but all that was turned on its head as Grosvenor's crisp passing saw them notch an equalising goal with only five minutes of the second half gone.


Any doubts that DLSC would be rocked by this were unfounded as they began to lay siege to the Grosvenor goal. Niall Carmichael and Paul Austin began to dominate the midfield, with Sean Smyth starting to enjoy more possession. Smyth had an effort deflected wide after a mazy Carmichael run. In quick succession, Conor Ward had two shots saved, resulting in corners. Dylan Fitzsimmons followed this up with a majestic curling effort that was also thwarted by the overworked Grosvenor keeper.


Jack Rodgers replaced the impressive Daire Tracey who had worked himself to the bone. Rodgers proved to be a reliable replacement and stopped numerous attacks down the right-hand side. With Carmichael and Austin controlling the midfield, it felt only a matter of time before La Salle scored again. But to Grosvenor's credit, they held firm in the face of an onslaught by Ward and the tricky Smyth.


Rhys McCloskey kept any attacks at bay as Conlai Mervyn patrolled the centre of La Salle's defence. Ward continued to be a thorn in the Grosvenor defence as he forced another corner after a goalmouth scramble. Tye Brady replaced the industrious Fionn Maxwell with five minutes of the half left as limbs began to tire and players succumbed to cramp. Another deflected shot from DLSC, this time by Ryan Conlon, proved to be the last chance of the 80 mins as the game headed into extra time.


Full Time: De La Salle College 1 Grosvenor Grammar School 1.


Extra time began with Grosvenor playing with the wind as they did in the first period. After two minutes, they almost took the lead. A magnificent save by McKenna saw the rebounded effort strike the post. Aodhan McConville replaced Ryan Conlon, providing Austin and Carmichael with a useful outlet to relieve pressure on the La Salle defence.


Both sides began to tire as the game descended into a midfield battle which swung both ways at various times. The second half of extra time proved uneventful until the last minute. A breakaway move saw a Grovenor forward one-on-one with the keeper. Fortunately, Kiernan McKernan was not to be denied and raced out of goal to claim the ball at the feet of the Grosvenor attacker.


Full time of extra time: De La Salle College 1 Grosvenor Grammar School 1.


Onto penalties, and playing into the DLSC supporters' goal, McKenna got his side off to the best possible start when he brilliantly saved Grosvenor's first penalty. Dylan Fitzsimmons made no mistake to put his side 1-0 up. The next set of penalties saw Grosvenor score as De La Salle miss theirs, to even things up. 1-1.


Both penalties were comfortably despatched with Niall Carmichael holding his nerve. 2-2. McKenna then made his most important save as he kept out Grosvenor's 4th penalty. Tye Brady netted his to leave his side 3-2 ahead after four attempts each. Grosvenor's captain Jack Crawford scored his side's last penalty, leaving it up to Conor Ward to win the cup, and that he did with aplomb, sending the DLSC supporters and staff into raptures.


Conlai Mervyn lifted the trophy as De La Salle College were crowned the NI Schools Cup Champions. Massive congratulations to the players and manager Callum McCaul.


FINAL SCORE: DE LA SALLE COLLEGE 1 GROSVENOR GRAMMAR SCHOOL 1

DE LA SALLE COLLEGE WON 4-3 ON PENS


DE LA SALLE:

KIERNAN MCKENNA

RHYS MCCLOSKEY

DAIRE TRACEY

PAUL AUSTIN

CONLAI MERVYN (C)

NIALL CARMICHAEL

SEAN SMYTH

FIONN MAXWELL

CONOR WARD

DYLAN FITZSIMMONS

RYAN CONLON


SUBS

TYE BRADY

JACK MCLAUGHLIN

JACK RODGERS

AODHAN MCCONVILLE

JAYDEN SEENAN




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