Clara Town players celebrate after winning the Paddy Cotter Cup final in Birr last Sunday.

Fleming fires Clara Town to Cotter Cup triumph

Clara Town 3 Monksland United 1

Clara Town made history when, in their first Cotter Cup final, they lifted the trophy after beating Monksland United at Frank O’Connell Park, Birr last Sunday afternoon.

The Athlone team shaded the exchanges in the opening half but both nets remained intact. Monksland took the lead early in the second half but Clara levelled matters midway through. With a quarter of an hour remaining, the Offaly team took the lead through Josh Fleming's second goal and sealed victory with a third goal, scored by Robert McDonagh, ten minutes later.

An additional nine minutes handed United a lifeline but Tony O’Sullivan's men could not take advantage as their dreams of a domestic treble were shattered.

There was always going to be a new name on the cup as neither team had been successful previously. Monksland had only reached the decider once, back in 2019, but for Clara it was a new experience. For long periods of the opening half, it was difficult to predict a winner although Monksland did have the better chances.

The first opportunity fell to Monksland's Shane Dolan but he headed over from a David O’Brien free kick. Clara earned the first corner kick of the decider while Kevin Dunne had a header saved at the other end.

The Offaly lads then enjoyed a good spell but found stand-in keeper David Campion in fine form between the Monksland posts. Josh Fleming had a couple of chances while Campion did well to tip over a free kick taken by Luke Dignam on the left.

Monksland forced two corners in quick succession but generally the finishing was poor as neither team looked like breaking the deadlock. The best chance of the half came after 34 minutes. Johnny Kiernan delivered a cross from the right but Aidan Reilly headed over when well placed to find the net.

Kiernan had a shot saved as half-time approached with Campion out to deny Clara number eleven Neil Robbins. Last chance of the half fell to Clara with Robbins almost getting a goalbound touch on an inviting ball across the goal from Fleming. So there was nothing to separate the two Senior Division title rivals after a lively opening half.

Clara had the first chance following the resumption of play when Robert Bracken had a shot saved but Monksland then broke the deadlock. Just five minutes had been played when United launched a swift counter attack. Dolan finished off a flowing move when firing past the keeper from the left. It was a crucial breakthrough but Clara still had lots of time to rectify the situation.

Monksland never built on the lead goal and were generally stifled up front. Clara veteran Stephen Deehan was turning back the clock with a virtuoso performance and this rubbed off on his teammates. There was little further action up to the hour mark with a Monksland corner the only noteworthy incident.

United looked in control although holding a slim advantage but Clara were on level terms after 67 minutes in fortunate circumstances. Fleming tried his luck and Campion allowed the shot to go through his legs to the net. It was tough on the young keeper who otherwise did little wrong on his first appearance in the spotlight.

Monksland offered little in response with a corner kick after 70 minutes one of the few times they tested the Clara defence. In contrast, the youthful exuberance of the Offaly outfit won out as they grew in confidence having grabbed the equaliser.

On 74 minutes, Fleming set up Robert McDonagh whose shot was pushed behind. It was a temporary reprieve for United though as Clara gained the lead from the resulting corner. McDonagh was again denied as Monksland blocked the shot but Fleming was on hand to force the ball home in a crowded goalmouth.

Clara were now on the verge of creating history and the task became easier with a third goal five minutes from full-time. A cross from the endline on the left saw McDonagh head home from close range.

The winners forced two more corners while a disappointing Monkland team could not raise their game with a corner in stoppage time coming to nothing. Deehan had the last Clara chance but was denied by Campion. Monksland tried hard to stage a grandstand finish but substitute Alan Fox fired wide deep into stoppage time.

A goal from United might have made for a tense finish but Clara were not to be denied on an historic afternoon for the Offaly men.

Man of the match: Josh Fleming (Clara). As well as scoring twice, the Clara striker also covered a lot of ground to help out his defence whenever Monksland threatened.

Clara Town: Gavin Fleming, Davy Minnock, Lee Tierney, Alex Hall, Thomas Devine, Robert McDonagh, Robert Bracken, Luke Dignam, Josh Fleming, Stephen Deehan, Neil Robbins. Subs: Sean Tierney for Devine (54 mins); Pa Smith for Minnock (60); Lorcan Cornally for Bracken (72); Adam Kelly for Robbins (79); Carmine Russo for Hall (84).

Monksland United: David Campion, Kevin Dunne, Keith O’Reilly, Brian Francis, Kevin Gaylard, David O’Brien, Stephen Francis, Aidan Reilly, Dylan Jinks, Shane Dolan, Johnny Kiernan. Subs: Padraig Geraghty for Dunne (56 mins); Ryan O’Connor for Kiernan (62); Reece Moran and Alan Fox for Gaylard and Reilly (87).

Referee: Ray Conlon (Athlone)

- John Dingle