WESTPORT United goalkeeper Gary Cunningham saved twice in a dramatic penalty shootout to inspire his side to victory over holders Athenry in the Connaught Cup final at Deacy Park, Galway, on Sunday.
Cunningham produced his heroics after the game ended scoreless after extra time of a gripping encounter and Kevin Joyce, the United captain, converted the decisive spot-kick to bring the coveted title back to the seaside town for the first time in 25 years and the seventh time in all.
The triumph brought the club’s centenary celebrations to a glorious climax.
Kevin Cusack, a former manager of Westport United, described the performance by the United players as ‘composed’.
He elaborated: “The first thing that comes to mind is how composed a performance it was. Everyone played well, and that doesn’t happen too often in finals.
“It wasn’t easy out in the windy conditions but our lads did really well. There were some superb individual performances and I know I shouldn’t but if I was forced to pick a man of the match, I’d go for Shaun Tagg.
“He was outstanding, the best I’ve ever seen him play. Everything he did was simple and straightforward and he never tried to complicate the game, which is the sign of a good player.
“I thought Athenry started fairly well but gradually we got on top. Then, in the second half we passed the ball really well, and we opened them up on a few occasions.
They never really threatened us in the second half apart from once when they got in behind us.
“That was down to everyone working really hard all over the pitch. That doesn’t happen by accident; it has to be made happen and there has to be a collective will to do it.
In that regard Danny (Scahill) and Dave (Cameron) really set the tempo in midfield. “When that happens, everyone joins in and we saw that today with everyone doing a great job in closing down and putting pressure on their direct opponent.
I” always felt that in the second half we looked like the team more likely to score. And it was the same in extra time without us being as dominant as we were earlier on. At that stage of a game, it’s more about not losing it than going all out to win it and the game always gets a bit cagier as players know that one mistake is all it takes.
“With penalties you just never know what will happen. When Pat (Fitzgerald) had his shot saved it looked like a repeat of what has happened us so often. But then Gary made that save and after that you just knew it was going to be our day.
“It’s a really special day for the lads because they’ve been through so much together. This was the medal that has eluded them but now they have it and they have clean sweep.
“It’s amazing really when you think about it that this group has won every single honour that is possible for a junior footballer to win.
“They’ve had some tough times down the years but they’ve had good ones too. Through it all, though, they’ve stuck together, and that is what has stood to them.
You just can’t put a price on that type of togetherness and a team either has it or doesn’t have it.
“This group has loads of it and I genuinely believe that we’ll only appreciate what they have achieved as a group in the years to come when we’re all older and greyer. They’ve done so much for our town and we should all be very proud of them.”
Full Report: Here