Blast from the Past: Local lads light up the Showgrounds

Newry Town 2 NK Hrvatatski Dragovojac 0

By Tony Bagnall

Exactly twenty years ago today, two local lads hit the glorious goals that pitched Newry Town into a money-spinning second round Inter-Toto Cup clash.

The pair, Robert Casey and Adrian Larkin, were the only two locals on the park in Newry Town’s first home European match.

Anyway those two magical, golden goals were enough to beat NK Hrvatatski Dragovojac and send the Newry Showgrounds into a frenzy.

The scenes afterwards were total ecstasy, players dancing with joy and the Town managerial team of Joe Rice, Trevor Anderson and Johnny McDonnell, together with many of the fans, dancing with them.

And make no mistake Newry deserved to go through.

Trailing 1-0 from the first leg, they created most of the clear-cut chances, most of the more telling moves.

On the other hand the full time professionals from Croatia were a solid footballing side and over the 90 minutes they probably had more possession. Their approach work was tidy and methodical but when it came to the nitty-gritty, they fell down.

There were some awesome performances from the Town team. Robert Casey was a giant. He ran the show, tackled like a tank, was supreme in the air and sprayed the ball about.

An absolute colossus.

Then there was Alan Hall who ran Casey close. When the Town needed him, especially in the ten minutes before the break, he was there to be counted. He made at least three goal-saving blocks and was never ruffled.

John Kenny was another big man for Newry, the Sligo speed-merchant ran his heart out while Stuart McLean, Tony Scappaticci and Shane Reddish scarcely put a foot wrong.

And then there was Adrian Larkin. He clicked his heels on the bench in Croatia without getting a run-out and did likewise for 79 minutes at the Showgrounds. But when he got his chance … how he took it. It might not have been the classiest goal ever scored at the Warrenpoint Road ground but arguably, in the over 80-year history of Newry Town, it was the most important.

However, overall it was the well-organised Newry teamwork that won the day.

With the rain pouring down the Town went into the attack straight from the kick-off and Dessie Gorman shaved the Hrvatatski post with an overhead kick.

The game settled down after that with both sides sparring, looking for a weakness. Newry found it on 16 minutes. Shane Reddish floated in a right wing freekick and there was Robert Casey rising majestically from a crowded goalmouth to power a header off the inside of keeper Zankarlo Simunic’s right hand post. A stunning goal.

The crowd went wild and the Town almost repeated the act ten minutes later when John Kenny crashed a low drive into the side-netting following an Alan Byrne free kick.

Casey was then blown up for a foul on the Croatian keeper after winning an aerial confrontation but most were of the opinion that the Town player was wrongly penalised.

In the ten minutes preceding the interval the Croatian visitors pressed strongly but the Newry defence was in a resolute mood. John Drake got in the way of a piledriver on 35 minutes and five minutes later McLean did likewise.

And Alan Hall in the space of sixty seconds twice did well to block.

On 48 minutes Robert Casey had another chance to net but Dessie Gorman’s right wing cross was a little too difficult to control.

Kenny too went close; following a sizzling 40-yard run, his searing drive inched past the base of the woodwork.

On the hour Rutherford, at the back post, miskicked a John Drake free kick and then three Town players, McLean, Kenny and Gorman each failed to get a touch on a Rutherford corner that ripped tantalisingly across the face of the Croatian goalmouth.

With 19 minutes left John Kenny blazed an Alan Hall freekick over the top as anxiety set in.

There was a mere eleven minutes to go however, when Dromalane lad Larkin replaced Dessie Gorman.

Talk about an inspired substitution. Trevor and Johnny Mac take full marks.  One minute later, and with just his second touch, the speedy marksman struck gold with a vital goal.

Robert Casey began the move shrugging off a Croatian, before deftly flicking a pass to John Kenny with the outside of his boot. Kenny picked out Larkin and the man nicknamed Joey slipped the ball under the advancing Simunic. And though the Dragovojac keeper did get a hand to the shot he couldn’t stop it trickling over the line.

The Showgrounds erupted for the second time.

But in the final nail-biting moments the visitors had a couple of opportunities to take the tie – and all they needed was an away goal to make the next round of the competition. However, Tony Scappaticci made a magnificent tackle to thwart Marin Lalic and then Berdi Nevio’s fierce drive zipped past the angle.

But Newry held on – and deservingly so – to make history and become the first Irish team to win an InterToto Cup tie.

Newry Town: Kevin McKeown, John Drake, Tony Scappaticci, Alan Hall, Stuart McLean, Shane Reddish, John Kenny, Alan Byrne, Robert Casey, Dessie Gorman, Mark Rutherford and Subs: Barry Tumilty (who replaced Byrne at the interval), Adrian Larkin, Trevor Smith, John McDonnell and Josh Connelly.

Cover photo caption: Robbie Casey celebrates with Adrian Larkin after the Dromalane lad hit the winner in the InterToto Cup tie against NK Hrvatatski Dragovojac.