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Teenage dreams so hard to beat

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

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Downpatrick 1 Rathfriland Rangers 2

FIFTEEN-YEAR-OLD Max Wilson struck a fine goal on his senior debut to create a golden memory that will last a lifetime, as Rathfriland Rangers wrapped up their season in style. The youngster scored within moments of coming off the bench, and helped the Whites side - containing five teenagers - to teach Downpatrick's tough-tacklers a lesson at Rosconnor on Saturday. The superb away win meant Aaron Black's Rangers finished the league campaign with a third-place finish, having only been promoted to the NAFL Premier Division last May. And with the Border Regiment Cup already sitting proudly in the Iveagh Park cabinet, the 2016-17 season has been a successful one for the club. With the title just out of reach, Black saw Saturday's game as an ideal opportunity to blood some of Rathfriland's most promising talents who have come through the club's outstanding youth set-up. Centre-half Ryan Clydesdale and midfielder Ryan Sloan both started and found themselves up against wily, seasoned players in the Downpatrick line-up. But they did not let that faze them, and threw themselves into tackles, coming out on top more often than not. Chances were at a premium for much of the first half, in which both sides cancelled each other out through solid defensive displays. But the game came to life in the second period when youngsters Wilson and Adam Brontė were given their first taste of first-team football. No doubt their nerves were jangling and hearts were thumping, but neither player let that show as they settled into the pace of the game with ease. And just four minutes after their introduction, they made their impact. Brontė battled well inside the Downpatrick area, winning possession and finding fellow teen Jack Graham, who played a sumptuous ball towards the back post. It evaded everyone apart from Wilson, who stormed in, connected sweetly and watched as his strike beat 'keeper Michael McKenna and went in off the woodwork. The little winger wheeled away to celebrate and his teammate and under 19 team coach, James Costello hoisted him high above his head as the travelling faithful cheered a new hero. Senior club member Dessie Davenport, who remembers scoring on his Rathfriland debut as a teen several decades ago, later said: "That young fella will never forget that goal!" The drama did not end there and the Whites soon doubled their lead in jaw-dropping fashion through Jonny Roy, the daring defender who does not do tap-ins. He scored a wondergoal in the Border Cup final win over the same opposition in December, but this effort was even more spectacular. A Downpatrick corner was cleared and Rathfriland broke forward, with Graham floating a pass forward to the onrushing Roy, who struck it sweetly on the volley from inside his own half. The ball arrowed over McKenna and high into the net to silence the home support, which had targeted Roy through the encounter. Downpatrick tried to battle back but were largely frustrated by Clydesdale and Daryl Evans, the pair dominating at the back, but the home side eventually found a lifeline from the penalty spot. Clydesdale tripped Aaron McGarry on the edge of the box and the referee pointed for a spot-kick, which was dispatched by Barry Treacy. The game was alive again and Downpatrick threw men forward - including the 'keeper - but time and time again Rathfriland put up a staunch defence and held out for a fully-deserved victory. "You can't win anything with kids" is what football pundit Alan Hansen once infamously said, but it looks like the Rangers' young guns will prove him wrong, as they look forward to a bright future in Rathfriland white.

Rathfriland Rangers: Shane Harrison (c), Jonny Roy, Ryan Clydesdale, Daryl Evans, Jonny Black, Stevie Coulter, Ryan Sloane, Graeme Edgar, Jack Graham, Jonathan Scannell, James Costello.

Subs: Adam Brontė, Mark Teggart, Max Wilson.

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