Champions

NYC Ireland crowned champs

NYC Ireland celebrate victory in the

Cosmos Copa at Shuart Stadium.

PHOTO: PETER MCDERMOTT

By Peter McDermott

pmcdermott@irishecho.com

NYC Ireland are top of the world.

The boys in green emerged the victors in Big Apple’s 32-nation Cosmos Copa after a pulsating 3-2 final against Colombia in Shuart Stadium, Hofstra University, Sunday night.

“Nail-biting” was the summary from the NYC Ireland Head Coach Austin Friel.

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Beaten by Albania in the inaugural 2009 final and semifinalists in 2010 and 2014, it was with a perceptible sigh of relief that the Irish claimed the title at last. The weight of expectation had been fully felt throughout the 90-plus-minute game.

“Our lads were suffering from nerves a bit,” Friel said. “They weren’t playing to their full abilities. And the Colombians were very disciplined.

“But fair play to them. They stuck with it,” he added about his men. “They gave up their weekends and trained hard to get this. They deserve it.”

The win was courtesy of a late, coolly-taken penalty by Ian Sweeney. The other four goals came in the first half with the Colombians drawing first blood, via a 10th-minute penalty by Christian Turizo. Ireland responded within five minutes. Conor Hunter, a veteran of several previous campaigns, headed over the line amidst frantic goalmouth action.

Ireland then took the lead with the best goal of the game. The move began with a dead ball on the right and ended with captain Sean Kelly shooting low and hard inside the box beyond goalie Oswaldo Herrera’s outstretched right arm. But the flight of a long-range speculative effort by Kevin Corea beat the other goalie Alex Condell and brought Ireland back down to Earth.

Kickoff was officially scheduled for 7:45 at Shuart, after New York Cosmos had finished their 2-0 win over Fort Lauderdale Strikers (kickoff 5 p.m.). The 4,000 crowd thinned out, leaving behind several hundred Irish and Colombian fans. A good-natured, family atmosphere also remained for the final of what has become the top amateur competition (with plenty of pro and semi-pro experience in the mix) in New York City. It’s tag-lined “the World’s Game in the World’s City.”

Ireland had arrived at the Hofstra complex unbeaten. They drew their opening group game 1-1 against Paraguay, before beating Japan 6-2 and Jamaica 1-0 over the July Fourth weekend. NYC Ireland then bested NYC Senegal 2-1 in the Round of 16, had the biggest margin of victory in the quarters with a 2-0 win over Ukraine and in the semis squeezed by last year’s champions Gambia, prevailing 5-4 on penalties, after a scoreless game.

“Unfortunate.” That was veteran Irish coach Paddy Diamond’s verdict on the opening penalty Sunday night. And the half-time consensus in the Irish dug-out was that defensive lapses had led to Colombia’s two. “Two very soft goals,” said one member of the entourage.

Colombia lost a man to a red card early in the second half, but it was clear that one substitution was working in their favor – new goalie Manuel Elijaek was proving himself to be a real star. He had an ally in the woodwork, which was struck in two separate attacks in the 63rd minute.

The NYC Ireland managers spent much of their effort in calming down their charges. Colombia had 10 men and only patience, not rushing, would work the advantage for Ireland.

“We have 25 minutes,” shouted Ian Woodcock.

When the penalty came and was converted, Colombia’s coach was not at all happy with the linesman who made the call. He confronted the official and was eventually ejected from the field of play. From the beyond the barrier, he shouted at the Irish dugout: “You have a good team. You can win without help!”

Friel repaid the compliment. “Colombia didn’t deserve to lose,” he said. A magnanimous assessment, perhaps, given his team had the lion’s share of the shots on target.

“But we’ll take the win,” he added with a smile.