The New York Irish soccer team made it to the final of the prestigious and highly competitive Copa NYC soccer tournament on Sunday, only to be beaten by Albania 4-1.
The Irish team, comprised of 25 Irish nationals and several Irish-Americans, accepted second place to rapturous applause and humble cheers from over 700 supporters.
The Irish lads went into the tournament hoping to come out of their group, which consisted of Trinidad & Tobago, France and Columbia. They not only came out of their group on top of their game with new found confidence and ability, but they went on to annihilate Jamaica in the quarter final and skillfully beat Cyprus on penalties to earn themselves a well-deserved place in the final on Sunday evening.
The lads, who hail from all over Ireland, made every Irish and Irish American in New York proud over the past two weekends.
It was Alan O’Hara’s winning penalty on Saturday evening against Cyprus that landed the Irish boys in the final. Conor Hunter, Sean Monroe, Pat Kelly and Alan Reilly Also scored penalties, but it certainly was goalkeeper Alan Reilly that was the hero of the shootout when he saved two vital penalty kicks from Cyprus.
Sunday’s game was intense and entertaining. Ireland started with Reilly in goal. Sean Monroe, Alan O’Hara, Gary Tierney and Garth McCroy made up the back four. Pat Kelly, Declan Reilly, Sean Purcell and Karol Hughes marshalled midfield and Kurt Smith and Conor hunter lead the attack.
Ireland had their first real chance five minutes in when Kurt Smith flick on to Conor Hunter but the pass was just out of his reach.
Ireland had their best chance ten minutes later when Conor Hunter was on the end of a free kick just outside the box but his header went two yards wide. Hunter was proving to be Ireland’s greatest threat.
Shortly after, Declan Reilly was brought down outside the box just after but the ensuing free was cleared. Ireland kept pressing forward but had no further chances on goal.
After 23 minutes Albania had their first real chance of the game but keeper Reilly made a diving save to block the 35-yard effort.
Two minutes later Albania scored their first goal from a corner kick. After the kick off, Ireland nearly had an equalizer when Kurt Smith took a pass and tried to chip the goalkeeper from the halfway line. The effort was two feet too high but have made for a highlight reel goal had it gone in.
Albania went two ahead shortly after, the goal coming from another corner kick.
A Kurt Smith 20-yard shot was Ireland’s only chance in the last ten minutes of the half but Albania went three ahead just before the break.
Ireland came out with renewed hope in the second period and brought on three substitutes, Alan Aingorn, Shane Moore and Damien Mescall. The Irish team had their first chance five minutes in when Kurt Smith had a 20-yard shot that was well saved by the Albanian keeper.
A free kick from Alan O’Hara went close shortly after. Against the run of play Albania scored their fourth goal after nine minutes but the Irish responded brialliantly. Kurt Smith latched on to a long ball and was brought down in the penalty area, and Conor Hunter crashed the pk to the back of the net.
Both team had chances in the next ten minutes but Ireland's final touch let them down when they were in the last third.
As the game progressed Sean Purcell made a commanding run through the center and was fouled for a 30 yard free kick. A shot on goal might have been the better option but the floated kick sailed tantalizingly wide.
Ireland had another chance to close the gap a few minutes later when Alan O’Hara’s header from a corner hit the post. Conor Hunter was first to react but was denied by the same woodwork.
Ireland came close with two efforts from Gary Tierney sandwiched by a Damien Mescall effort.
In the dying minutes Conor Hunter had a last chance header from a pat Kelly cross but the Albanian keeper smothered the long ball.
The second half performance showed the level of football that Ireland played over the two weekend-long tournament, and Alan O’Hara, Gary Tierney, Sean Purcell and Conor Hunter all put in Irish Man of the match performances.
Team manager and trainer said last week that all his players poured their hearts and souls into the tournament and that he was very proud of them. Doherty was also grateful to all the Irish fans that came out to support the lads for the last two weekends
Although Ireland didn’t win the tournament outright, they earned themselves a well deserved spot on the New York soccer map. This is only the beginning for the Irish lads. Watch this space