Connolly Celtic 0 – Pike Rovers (Limerick) 8 at The County Grounds, Doora
The coldest day of the new year also brought with it Connolly Celtic’s harshest lesson of the season as they were comprehensively put to the sword by Limerick’s Pike Rovers on Sunday.
The Hoops were the only side to warm to the occasion and essentially displayed a superior first touch and penetration that the Clare side were simply unable to match once they claimed the lead in the 23rd minute.
Connolly for their part never reached the heights of previous rounds or displayed the fighting spirit that has catapulted them into the Premier Division in Clare this season. Each passing goal was another timely nail in their coffin as they failed to hold onto possession and increasingly became disillusioned and ragged in terms of marking and composure.
One passage of play near the finish summed up Connolly’s day as a John Paul Healy penalty and subsequent follow up by Kenneth Kennedy were both stopped by goalkeeper Gary Neville only to see a flowing Pike move end up in the back of Celtic’s net in almost the next passage of play for a seventh goal.
Such a convincing scoreline certainly didn’t appear on the cards early on as two early half chances for Connolly’s Brendan Dillon both went wide of the far post. Pike soon settld however and after Kenneth Kennedy headed off the line for the home side, the Hoops finally made the breakthrough midway through the half when a cross from the right was deflected into the path of unmarked Keith Harnett to volley to the net just inside the box.
Gathering momentum, Pike doubled their advantage only five minutes later when centre-half Patrick Mullins rose highest to head a Martin Deady corner past Niall Quinn. And the result was seemingly put beyond any doubt by the half hour mark when Pike carved open Connolly’s defence once more in a move involing Wayne Corbett, Alan Barry and a David Ryan effort that was partially saved by Quinn but fell perfectly for Harnett to grab his second of the afternoon.
A frustrated Connolly were now chasing shadows as Pike uped the tempo once more and sprayed the ball around the County Grounds with ease. And they would be rewarded just before the break when targetman Alan Barry powered a header to the net from a Ryan cross.
Any thoughts of stemming the tide on the restart were soon vanquished as Martin Deady added a fifth through an accurate free only two minutes into the restart. It was damage limitation for Connolly by that stage but they would concede a sixth through a John Tierney penalty before finally taking the game to their opponents.
In their best move of the game, Bryan Connellan and Brendan Dillon combined to play in Kenneth Kennedy but his initial near post shot was saved while the rebound drifted wide.
In the 75th minute, another positive attacking move saw Kennedy fouled for a penalty only for John Paul Healy’s resulting spot kick to be repelled as was Kennedy’s follow up.
Such frustration seemed to deflate Connolly even further as within two minutes, an inch perfect ball over the top from Edward O’Donovan set up the powerful Barry to round goalkeeper Niall Quinn and shoot for goal. His angled effort was headed off the line by Ian Hassett but crucially David Ryan was the quickest to react to volley a seventh goal for the visitors.
By now, Connolly were praying for the final whistle but they would have to endure the concession of an eighth goal before then as Pike attacked in numbers and three players were lining up in the centre to convert a Tierney cross. Barry took the honours to grab his second of the game, a fitting tribute to Pike’s most impressive performer on the day.
It is a result that Connolly will clearly want to put behind them ahead of their crucial Premier Division basement clash with Hermitage this Sunday, a team that are on a high after humbling league leaders Mountshannon by 6-0 last time out.
Three points in that game would go a long way to wiping their Munster Junior Cup woes.
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