By Jack Flynn
Rangers 1-10, Rockland 0-9
As Declan Curtin stood waiting to take his penalty kick on Sunday, the entire crowd at Gaelic Park held its breath. The fate of the U-21 final between Rockland and Rangers was hanging in the balance.
A goal by Curtin would give Rangers a 4-point lead with little time left on the clock for Rockland to come back. A save by keeper Greg Brennan, who had been so splendid up to this point, and Rockland might well have the emotional lift needed to complete their comeback and pull out a victory. It was up to Curtin to decide which way the pendulum would swing.
Curtin’s blast went over the diving Brennan’s head but under the crossbar and into the net. The Stamford senior footballer and Fairfield University soccer player’s goal was the final nail in the Rockland coffin, as Rangers held on for a 1-10 to 0-9 win and the U-21 championship.
“It was a good effort by Rangers,” said center half back Tom Bermingham. “We tried our best and came out on top.”
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When it came time to select the man of the match, it was not Curtin, whose goal was the decisive score of an up-and-down match, who was tapped. Nor was Rockland’s Tom Fennell, who scored all nine of his team’s points and was perfect on free kicks.
Instead, the honor was given to Bermingham, who was playing in his third match of the day but still had enough left in the tank to give a full effort for Rangers. Bermingham did not score a point in the match, but tried hard for his team nonetheless.
“I’m honored to win this,” Bermingham said. “There were a lot of other great performances put in. To be chosen for this feels great.”
Rangers were on the board first, as Curtin and Aidan Bishop scored early to give their side a 2-point advantage. It was from this point forward that a trend which lasted for the entire hour began to make itself known.
Rangers controlled the flow and most of the scoring opportunities, but missed the unbelievable number of chances. For every point they did score, Rangers’ attackers struck at least two balls wide.
Rockland, with the exception of Fennell, was no more accurate than their opponents. While his teammates continued to fail when they had a chance to pad their teams’ point total, the Pearl River native and Manhattan College soccer player converted frees from all over the pitch.
Fennell’s brilliance kept Rockland in the match until halftime, when the score was 0-6 to 0-4 in favor of Rangers. Curtin, Bishop and Sean Concannon each had two points for Rangers.
Concannon had earlier gathered in a long pass off a free and slotted the ball underneath a diving Brennan and into the Rockland goal, but a questionable square ball was judged, denying Rangers three more points.
After Curtin scored his third point early in the second 30 minutes, Fennell converted three straight frees to level the score. Rockland continued to push, but were never able to take the lead.
Part of the problem was that Brennan (who made several brilliant saves to keep Rangers without a goal) could not get his kickouts safely into the hands of his teammates, making it hard for Rockland to attack offensively.
Finally, with the score 0-9 to 0-8 for Rangers, Concannon was bowled over by a Rockland player inside the box. The penalty kick was awarded, Curtin converted and Rangers had all but clinched the match.
One last point by Fennell was answered by Concannon, and Rangers had prevailed.
Rangers scorers: Curtin 1-5, Concannon 0-3, A. Bishop 0-2.
Rockland: Fennell 0-9.