Illingworth St Mary’s rounded off a memorable day for their manager Pete Southwell with a 5-3 win over Greetland in last night’s Halifax AFL Challenge Cup final at the Shay.
Southwell’s second child, Riley, had entered the world a few hours earlier and if that had been an anxious time, his players didn’t make things any easier.
Saints, already crowned Division One champions and hot favourites to complete a double, threw away a two-goal lead and then trailed in extra time before finally getting the better of plucky opponents.
“We made hard work of it,” conceded Southwell’s right hand man Mick Rhodes after the Skircoat Green Physiotherpy-sponsored contest.
Illingworth have made a spectacular impact in two seasons in the AFL, sweeping through the lower divisions, and their experienced line-up created several shooting opportunities in the first quarter.
The speed and trickery of their free-scoring striker John Booth was evident and he warmed keeper Craig Taylor’s hands, while Luke Prosser had a headed goal ruled out for offside.
Young man of the match Aaron Dorward worked hard with Oliver Bagley to help Greetland get a foothold in the contest and the former lashed the ball just wide from 25 yards.
Scott Hamilton put the ball into the side-netting with Taylor AWOL and just when the first half looked set to end goalless, Gareth Gaukroger and Phil Livsey set up the impressive Callum Cook to slam the ball into the roof of the net.
Illingworth doubled their lead four minutes after the break when Mike Gregory’s miscued shot turned into the perfect pass for Booth, who fired home.
Greetland were quick to reply through lively front runner Karl Jowett, who climbed above a defender at the back post to head home Dorward’s cross.
Illingworth suddenly looked unsure at the back and Ady Ford was denied by a desperate block as the game opened up.
In a dramatic last 10 minutes of normal time, ‘Cat’ Taylor lived up to his nickname with flying saves in quick succession from Booth (twice) and Livsey to keep his side in it.
Hugely experienced referee Ian Childs was then perfectly placed to witness Jowett being brought down in the area and Ford coolly slotted the penalty to make it 2-2 with three minutes left.
There was a bizarre moment at the start of extra time when Greetland stopped after the ball crossed the touchline but Booth carried on and put the ball into an empty net before a throw in was belatedly awarded.
Greetland hit the front on 94 minutes when Jowett got past Declan Rothery in the penalty area, cut in towards the goal and the ball went in off ‘keeper Rab Langley.
Livsey made it 3-3 four minutes later in excellent fashion, the midfielder beating two men in a run down the centre of the pitch from just inside the Greetland half before hitting a swerving 25-yard shot past Taylor.
Livsey struck again in the second period of extra time, his shot crashing into Taylor’s body and the ball looping into the air and into the net.
Cook completed the scoring with three minutes left after Booth had wriggled past three defenders in the Greetland area, leaving Southwell and Saints to breathe a huge sigh of relief.