Sligo Rovers under-19s season ended in dramatic and heart-breaking fashion at The Showgrounds this afternoon with a penalty shoot-out loss to Limerick.
The drama was not just confined to the penalties as the game finished 5-5 after extra time with several ebbs and flows.
In the end it was Limerick’s prowess from the penalty spot with five goals to four that proved the only thing capable of separating the two sides.
The goalscoring started right from kick-off as Rovers came out of the blocks with a fantastic start.
Striker Liam Flatley took the opportunity to shoot from 25 yards and his shot had too much power for the keeper as it flew into the top corner on two minutes.
Brian Morley was one of Rovers most dangerous players on the day and a run from him on the right wing after 8 minutes led to a ball in for Flatley. He shot for his second goal but the keeper saved low.
The game totally turned around in two minutes as Limerick scored twice to move into the lead. McSweeny scored first after a move on the right involving Brouder and McCartan.
Again Limerick attacked on their right and another close finish by Yoyo Mahdy put them in front.
Rovers attacked again on 21 minutes and had two close-cut chances. Morley found Gary Armstrong on the right end line and he shot across goal but saw it cleared. That clearance fell to Ryan O’Donoghue, he crossed to the box where Flatley had his effort saved.
With half an hour gone Limerick took a quick free-kick that sent McCartan in and first time he lifted the ball over Jack Burke to make it 3-1 for the visitors.
But back came Rovers with the fifth goal of the game with still just 34 minutes gone. Morley looked to be attempting a cross from the right wing but a touch off a defender sent the ball right into the top corner.
Morley almost set up the leveller on 37 minutes, after going on a good run he held the ball up before sliding it to Armstrong making a quick run, he had a first time shot that got blocked behind giving a corner.
The last chance came just before the break as Flanagan almost caught Limerick out with an early shot from distance that just landed on the crossbar with the keeper at full stretch.
Rovers started the better team in the second half but chances on the hour from Flatley and Ross Taheny went off target.
Limerick were able to extend the lead on 62 minutes. A corner from the left was cleared but remained in the box for Brouder to squeeze in at the far post.
It seemed all may be lost but Rovers continued to rally. A goal almost came four minutes after as Morley ran in from the left wing and struck the ball well but it ricocheted off the back of a Limerick man to the path of Jason Hunt. The Mayo winger hammered a low volley first time but it ended inches wide.
With 18 minutes to go Rovers began another comeback. Sub Paul Doyle had come on following Limerick’s fourth and he sent a free-kick around the halfway line into the box, the keeper couldn’t handle it and seen the ball slip through his fingers and into the net.
Another sub Mikey Place got fouled on 82 minutes by Paudie O’Connor, the Limerick captain, and he was sent off.
The win looked to be heading Limerick’s way until deep into injury time when Morley snuck in round the back on the right of the box to squeeze the ball in and send us to extratime.
The Bit o’Red came out flying to being the additional 30 minutes showing no sign of fatigue.
Cathal Carney slipped in behind just three minutes in and tried to beat the keeper with a low effort but he produced the save.
Then Rovers got a penalty with a foul on Armstrong that gave the chance to re-take the lead.
Armstrong stepped up himself and put the ball past the keeper with a very cool finish.
Two minutes after Carney had another chance as Morley put a ball over the heads of the defence for him but it rolled narrowly wide.
Rovers kept going forward as Place then hit the ball low from just outside the box with the keeper having to go at full stretch to push it wide with his fingertips.
Just as the break was about to begin the 10th goal of the game arrived. A speculative effort from McSweeney flew in high to the net over the out-stretched arm of Burke.
The best chance of the final 15 minutes of play to win the game came to Place with a low ball in from Hunt but Holland in the Limerick goals was out quick and saved.
A second red card was given to Limerick’s Val Feeney for an aggressive foul on Fintan Borotto in the dying moment just before the full-time whistle. The game had to be decided on penalties.
Armstrong and Doyle scored the opening two for Rovers and Limerick did likewise. But a great low save to captain Ross Taheny’s penalty gave Limerick the edge.
Despite Carney and Place also finishing well Limerick scored all five of their penalties to get the win and the semi-final place.
That ends the season for Rovers in cruel, dramatic fashion but Ciaran Kelly and his whole team can reflect proudly on a season which seen them top their division.
Rovers: Burke, O’Donoghue (Doyle 63), McCallion, Taheny (c), Borotto, Flanagan (Place 74), Frempong (Kennoy 119), Morley (Walsh 116), Armstrong, Hunt, Flatley (Carney (74).