NAFL Clarence Cup quarter-final

Crumlin Star 3-1 East Belfast

It was a dress rehearsal at Cliftonville Playing Fields, ahead of Tuesday night’s semi-final of the McComb’s Intermediate Cup as Crumlin Star hosted East Belfast in the Clarence Cup. 

A bright start from the visitors saw them take the lead after a clever finish from striker Wes Patterson, following some great play by winger Stephen Cockcroft. 

However, two second-half goals from Joseph McNeill and a Kevin Lynch strike means that it’s Crumlin who progress through to the semi-final of this year’s Clarence Cup, as well as undoubtedly gaining a huge psychological advantage ahead of their semi-final showdown on Tuesday. 

It was a slow start from the home side, as the midfield duo of McNeill and McKervey struggled to match the pace and intensity set by East Belfast in the early stages. 

It wasn’t long before East Belfast were targeting left-back Aidan McNeill, mainly through winger Cockcroft. 

The wide man was getting lots of joy down in the early stages down the right-hand side as the Crumlin defender struggled to deal with the pace and trickery of the dangerous number 11. 

Just as the winger was starting to have his way with the Crumlin defender, he was brought crashing back down to earth by referee Jimmy Johnstone. 

The wide man did brilliantly to skip past a number of Crumlin tackles in the middle of the park before running into the very man he’d spent the previous 15 minutes tormenting. 

McNeill appeared to pull out of the challenge, however, Cockcroft, who would have been free to run at an exposed Crumlin backline, chose to throw himself to the floor. The appeals were quickly waved away by the referee, who was not shy in letting the attacker know what he had done. 

A matter of minutes later, however, Cockcroft was making amends for his previous error. The wide man once again was eyeball to eyeball with McNeill, and once again skipped past him with ease, this time deciding to stay on his feet. 

The East Belfast man had the calmness and vision to pick out a low pinpoint cross to the near post, allowing striker Wes Patterson to glance the ball into the far corner. Nothing less than East Belfast deserved. 

Towards the end of the first half, there were one or two signs that the home side was just starting to find their feet. 

A well-struck effort from Kevin Lynch forced an excellent save from goalkeeper Aaron Carberry; a reminder for East Belfast that despite their excellent start, their place in the semi-finals was far from guaranteed. 


Right before the interval, there was time for one more superb stop from the visiting goalkeeper. Once again, it was Lynch left frustrated by the acrobats of the East Belfast shot-stopper. This time Lynch rose above Rossborough and co. in the East Belfast back line to drive a low header at the visitor’s net, but was left frustrated as he watched Carberry get down quickly to palm away the goal-bound effort. 

The sound of the half-time whistle was greeted warmly by the away dugout, who no doubt could sense Crumlin slowly getting a foothold in the tie. 

The second half began with Crumlin picking up exactly where they left off, as the home side continued to press on in search of an equaliser. 

A couple of half chances for the likes of Smyth and Lynch early in the second half should have served as a warning sign to the travelling East Belfast side. Ten minutes after the interval, Crumlin finally punished the visitors, who by now were beginning to look leggy. 

An inviting corner from captain Barry McKervey was simply begging to be headed home and up rose McKervey’s midfield partner Joseph McNeill to get the slightest of touches and glance the ball into the far corner. 

Unlike East Belfast in the first half, Crumlin were not for resting on their laurels and immediately set about searching for another. 

One player who epitomised the second-half effort from Crumlin Star was full-back Brendan O’Neill. 

The defender was instrumental in every one of the home side’s attacks, whilst managing to not neglect his defensive duties also, as he continued to keep Cockcroft quiet, who had, rather unusually, switched sides in the second half, after getting plenty of joy down the opposite wing in the first half. 


The full-back played a vital role in his side’s second goal, winning the ball back on the halfway line and preventing a potential East Belfast attack. The ball fell kindly to captain McKervey, who spotted the run of the marauding O’Neill down the right-hand side.

O’Neill delivered a perfectly weighted through ball to Lynch who made no mistake from close range, drilling the ball past the very man who had denied him a brace in the first half – giving Crumlin the lead for the first time of the afternoon. Whilst the scoreline suggested the match was still competitive, the body language and attitude of the two respective teams certainly did not. 

East Belfast looked defeated. The pace and intensity that saw them blow Crumlin away in the opening half an hour had all but vanished, leaving Crumlin to spend the remaining quarter of an hour camped in the visitor’s half, nonchalantly passing the ball amongst each other and creating chances at will.

All there was left to do now was for Joseph McNeill to grab his second of the afternoon, and thus solidifying the man of the match award for the midfielder. The goal, encapsulated not only the midfielder’s afternoon but East Belfast’s too. 

Scrappy and lazy defending from the visitors allowed a hungry and determined McNeill to pounce on a poorly cleared corner and poke the ball home from two yards out. 

The result puts Crumlin into the semi-finals of this year's Clarence Cup, with today’s result no doubt meaning its advantage Crumlin, ahead of Tuesday’s encounter in McComb’s Intermediate Cup.

CRUMLIN STAR: C McNeill, B O’Neill, A McNeill, N Hawkins, M Lyons, J McNeill, S Smyth, K Trainor, K Lynch, J Doyle, B McKervey.

Goals: J McNeill 54’, 86’; K Lynch 64’.

EAST BELFAST: A Carberry, B McMorris, K Rossborough, G McBride, G Parker, N McVeigh, J McWilliams, D Evans, W Patterson, D Graham, S Cockcroft.

Goal: W Patterson 13’.