Ardee Celtic’s return to North East Football League Premier Division action ended in controversial circumstances on Friday evening, losing 2-3 to Bellurgan United – with the game being blown up three minutes before full time.
After going 0-3 down shortly after the interval, Conor Lynch’s side fought back with two goals from John Flanaghan and Gareth Kane. However, with light fading quickly at floodlight-less Flynn Park, referee Andy Fulham decided to end the game on 87 minutes, moment’s after Kane’s strike.
That denied Ardee Celtic at least six minutes extra to attempt to find an equaliser. Three goals were scored, six substitutes had been made and there was an injury stoppage too in the second half – ample time to be added on and potentially, score a third. It wasn’t to be though, leaving the Deesiders to make the trip home disappointed.
New additions Flanaghan and Darryn Gaynor – himself a former Bellurgan player – started in Dundalk in a side that included a host of key players from last season’s Division 1 promotion push. However, they were quickly given an indicator of how tough they might find things in the top tier. After a Dean Gaynor foul, Daragh Lafferty headed in the free kick at the back post.
Lorcan Myles had gone close early on and despite the early setback, Celtic hit back after the opener. Kane saw a header saved by Robbie Arthur. The Bellurgan second came in the midst of a good spell for the visitors. Again, it was another foul that led to the opportunity and the Font’s downfall.
Fintan Clarke committed a foul from behind and John Smyth assumed responsibility of the penalty kick, slotting the ball to Declan Butler’s left. Before half time, Dean Gaynor rounded Arthur but was unable to find a teammate as Ardee attempted to reduce the deficit.
Within a minute of the restart however, it was 0-3 – stemming from yet another foul. This time it was Flanaghan who conceded the free kick. The effort was spilled by Butler and Declan Sharkey was on hand to tap in from close range. It could have been four before Ardee Celtic got back into it. Myles and Gaynor were needed to make vital clearances as United pushed on. Gaynor did eventually carve out a first chance of the second half but he shot wide.
On 72 minutes, the visitors did pull one back. This time player-coach Flanaghan found himself in space in the area to finish well after a well worked free kick. That goal put a spring in the step of the Deesiders, as did the introduction of Bryan O’Connor and Shawni Dowdall from the substitutes bench.
The duo injected pace and purpose for Celtic and a second goal arrived four minutes from time. The impressive Kane received the ball around 35 yards from goal. After steadying himself, he unleashed a thunderbolt which flew past Arthur and into the top corner. With time left on the clock, hopes were high that an equaliser was on the horizon – but then referee Fulham blew up.
Remarkably, he did so with 87 minutes on the clock, citing fading light as the reason to call it early. According to officials on both benches, no consultation had been made with either manager prior to kick off. It seemed an odd decision to make. He could have at least played to 90 and then at that stage, the decision to end the game would be at his discretion.
It denied a resurgent Celtic the chance to find an equaliser in their first game in the top tier.
BELLURGAN UNITED: Robbie Arthur, Owen Traynor, John Smyth, Pauric Browne, Daragh Lafferty, Keith Finnegan, Stephen Finnegan, Declan Sharkey, Shane Finnegan, Barry Carr, Gavin Gaffey.
ARDEE CELTIC: Declan Butler, Pierce Hawkins (Shawni Dowdall), Colm Matthews (Bryan O’Connor), Fintan Clarke, Robbie Reynolds, Lorcan Myles, John Flanaghan, Eddie Burke, Gareth Kane, Dean Gaynor, Darryn Gaynor.
Thanks to Paudi Wright from Ardee Celtic for providing match details for the above report.