UUJ were only three minutes away from their first-ever Border Regiment Cup final, until Division 1B opponents Rathfriland Rangers took the game to extra-time with a late penalty at Seaview on Wednesday.
UUJ manager Fra Miskelly told the Times: “Kyle Ferguson insists he didn’t touch their player, who had already been booked for diving – and I believe him!
“But to be honest, we didn’t really play well. We didn’t hit the same levels we reached in the last two rounds against Newington YC and Kilmore Rec – but at the time, I couldn’t see where an equaliser was going to come from, and with just three minutes left, we were nearly there!”
UUJ had already beaten Rathfriland this season, 3-2 in the Intermediate Cup in October, and, like the earlier encounter, it was Rangers who had a territorial edge.
Rangers had a clear-cut offering on 25 minutes, but keeper Eamon Browne came to the rescue, pawing the ball round the post. From the resultant corner, Browne released Johnny Magennis who threaded the ball through for Dan McAlea to race in and give UUJ the lead.
Rangers almost cancelled that one out, shading the outside of the upright and Browne was called upon again to make a fintertip save from a rasping Ryan Evans effort.
McAlea could have given UUJ some breathing space, swirling one just over the bar, following a telling break down the right by Padraig Scollay.
Just before the interval, Rathfriland’s Scott Ward rattled the crossbar with a right-foot effort that looked destined for the top corner.
There was thankfully less action for keeper Browne in the second session, even though Rathfriland retained a higher percentage of possession and it surely would have been all over had McAlea not dragged a Ryan Kelly cross just wide of the target.
Yet Miskelly’s men seemed to have done enough – until Steve Coulter’s penalty three minutes from time.
And so into extra-time, where it was increasingly looking like penalties would decide the outcome until Rathfriland’s Ally Wilson netted a dramatic winner right at the death.
UUJ: Browne – F Brannigan (McBriarty), Ferguson, Maxwell – Lyons, Esler, Crossan, J Magennis – Scollay, McAlea, R Kelly (Liggett). Sub (unused) Pelan.
Result: Rathfriland 2 v UUJ 1
Report by Alan Hall