On Sunday Nenagh AFC missed out on the Limerick District League Premier League title by a single point to Janesboro. On Thursday evening the Blues beat ‘Boro 2-0 at Pearse Stadium, Janesboro to force the title race to the final day.
And, the terms and conditions on Sunday were clear: Nenagh AFC required a win over Carew Park at Islandbawn, Nenagh and then hoped that Aisling Annacotty could get a result against Janesboro. Nenagh AFC held up their end of the bargain when beating Carew Park 2-1, but Janesboro clung for a 3-2 win over Aisling to seal the league title.
Irrespective of that fact Nenagh AFC narrowly failed to realise their dream of landing an historic league title they still have plenty to celebrate - the Blues have been excellent this season.
On Thursday evening, for instance, Nenagh AFC played terrifically well away to the champions elect. In the most trying of circumstances Nenagh AFC played football, took the game to Janesboro and took the lead thanks to a right-footed Barry Coffey finish before Nathan Kelly lashed the killer goal into the roof of the net. That result ensured that Nenagh AFC completed the league double over Janesboro (Nenagh beat Janesboro 2-1 at Brickfields in November).
It is ironic that Nenagh AFC’s two-one win over Janesboro propelled the Tipperary side to the summit of a division which features acclaimed clubs like Pike Rovers, Fairview Rangers, Ballynanty Rovers and Geraldines. In 2012, for instance, Nenagh AFC became the first North Tipperary & District League side to qualify for the Munster Junior Cup final (a competition inaugurated in 1922), but found themselves beaten by Janesboro at Cooke Park, Tipperary Town. Such experiences forced Nenagh AFC to consider broader horizons as the club suffered from a lack of competition domestically.
In May 2015 Nenagh AFC collected a fifth successive North Tipperary & District League Premier Division title before completing the double when seeing off Nenagh Celtic in the Ricky Fogarty Cup final. That clash with the local rivals represented the final game played by Nenagh Town in the North Tipperary & District League.
Nenagh AFC are an ambitious club and made a controversial decision to apply for inclusion in the Limerick District League, a league Town officially joined in August 2015. Although the Limerick District League is regarded as one of the toughest in the country and despite being forced to start their A team in division 1A and a B team in division 2B Nenagh AFC finished the 2015-16 season as champions of both.
The club could have opted to consolidate their position in the Premier Division, but true to the character of the club Nenagh AFC pushed on and embraced the challenge posed.
For some years now Nenagh AFC have been committed to the development of underage talent. Indeed, in May 2014 Town became the first Tipperary side since St Michael’s in 1994 to win the FAI Youths Cup following a dramatic penalty shoot-out final against Evergreen FC (Kilkenny) while in May 2016 Nenagh AFC beat Wilton (Cork) 3-2 after extra-time to win an historic FAI Under-17 Cup. And, now Nenagh AFC have an accomplished senior side which those talented young players can aspire to.
On Sunday afternoon at Islandbawn Carew Park made life as awkward as possible for Nenagh AFC - the defending champions dropped to the edge of their eighteen-yard box and worked hard to frustrate the Blues’ attack. And, Carew Park’s approach worked a real treat. Indeed, Mike Ahern’s men took the lead in the 24th minute when Kieran Hanlon cracked a brilliant opening goal into Aaron Savage’s top corner.
Nenagh AFC struggled to create any real chance of note in the opening half, but improved significantly following the half-time interval with Ryan Gilmartin coming agonizingly close to notching an equalizer in the both the 52nd and 57th minutes.
The introduction of sixteen-year-old Barry Coffey in the 68th minute added another dimension to Nenagh’s approach play with the Glasgow-bound youngster going close in the 70th and 76th minutes.
Nenagh AFC happened upon a little good fortune in the 85th minute when the Carew Park ‘keeper misjudged a Jordan Lewis delivery and managed to spill the right-backs cross into his own net. In injury time Barry Coffey fired the ball home from an offside position and Ben Banaghan cracked an effort off the crossbar as the home side desperately sought a late winner, but there was still time for the Blues to grab a goal. And, that goal materialized in the 96th minute when Ryan Gilmartin fired a terrific left-footed effort into the top corner.
The Blues then endured an agonizing wait for the final result from Janesboro’s clash with Aisling Annacotty at Pearse Stadium. When the news broke that Janesboro had won 3-2 the Nenagh AFC players were understandably heart-broken, but this group of Blues should feel more than proud of their achievements this season. Indeed, Nenagh AFC still have the Lawson Cup to play for and are scheduled to face off against Carew Park in the semi-finals on Sunday, May 14th (away).
Nenagh AFC Squad: Aaron Savage, Robbie Ryan, Eoin Coffey, Jordan Lewis, Bryan McGee, Max Boghu, Cathal Coonan, Mark McKenna, Mark Cahill, Gary Kevin, Eoin Heavin, James McGrath (captain), Dylan Sheahan, Roy Creagh, Nathan Kelly, John Mitchell, Ben Banaghan, Alan Sheahan, Ryan Gilmartin, Thomas Sheppard, Danny Butler, Alex Gardos, Michael Hogan and Barry Coffey.
Nenagh AFC Management Team: Dearan O'Gorman, Shane O'Gorman, David Rooney and Martin Donnellan.