In only their second year in the League of Ireland, Sporting Fingal
became a Premier Division club after beating Bray Wanderers over two-legs in the promotion/relegation play-off.
Bray had the large share of possession and chances at the Carlisle Grounds, but they came up against an inspired goalkeeper in Darren Quigley and Eamon Zayed put the final nail in the Seasiders coffin.
It had seemed as if the hosts were thrown an injury-time lifeline when custodian O’Connor headed in Gary McCabe’s 91st minute corner.
But straight from the tip-off, the Australian turned from hero to villain.
He tried to evade Gary O’Neill when clearing but was robbed by the striker and he picked out Robert Bayly who blasted into the roof of the net to celebrations from the sparse Sporting fanbase.
With the first goal always crucial, it went Fingal’s way in the 59th minute.
Lorcan Fitzgerald’s long through ball saw O’Connor come a long
way out to try and clear but he lost possession to Gary O’Neill who fed Robert Bayly who teed up Conan Byrne. His effort was blocked on the line by Gary Cronin who then made a brilliant tackle to take the ball away from Bayly. But it only went as far as Zayed and the former Bray hit-man took his time before lashing to the net from 16 yards.
He went agonisingly close to adding another within moments.
The forward latched onto O’Neill’s reverse pass to beat the offside trap and rolled his shot past O’Connor but it trickled wide of an open goal.
Then Shane McFaul won possession and slipped O’Neill in. He squared to Robert Bayly only for O’Connor to save with his legs.
Bray sub Jake Kelly skewed a glorious chance wide from ten-yard after Dave Mulcahy’s mis-hit in the 82nd minute.
Seconds later, they did score. Paul Byrne flicked on Chris Deans’
clearance and John Flood lofted over the on-rushing Quigley from the edge of the box.
It took until the quarter-hour mark for the Green and White’s to come to life.
A superb piece of skill and left wing cross by Dane Massey saw John Flood’s shot blocked. The loose ball fell to Gary McCabe but his 15-yard attempt went straight into Quigley’s arms.
The former Republic of Ireland Under-21 cap repeated his heroics from the first encounter with a wonderful double-save in the 21st minute.
He pushed out John Flood’s fierce 16-yard drive and then recovered to block Paul Byrne’s close range follow-up.
Each side made one change from the first leg.
Midfielder Dave Mulcahy took over the Wanderers captain’s armband from the injured Derek Pender as Daire Doyle slotted into right back.
As for the visitors, striker Gary O’Neill returned in attack in place
of ex-Seagull Robbie Doyle.
After a tentative opening, it was the away side who almost finished the tie as a contest as early as the seventh minute.
Chris O’Connor’s poor clearance went straight to Conan Byrne. But the First Division’s top scorer’s 40-yard effort, with the keeper off his line, sailed over.
The Dubliners now face Sligo Rovers in the FAI Ford Cup at the this weekend.
Bray Wanderers: 1 Chris O’Connor; 2 Daire Doyle, 4 Derek Foran, 5 Chris Deans, 3 Gary Cronin; 11 Gary McCabe, 8 Dave Mulcahy, 6 Dane Massey, 7 Gareth Coughlan (12 Jake Kelly 62 mins); 9 Paul Byrne, 10 John Flood.
Subs not used: 15 David O’Neill, 16 David Webster, 25 Brian Kane.
Booked: Foran 72 mins.
Sporting Fingal: 1 Darren Quigley; 2 Colm James, 5 Shaun Maher, 6 Stephen Paisley, 3 Lorcan Fitzgerald; 7 Conan Byrne, 8 Robert Bayly, 11 Shane McFaul, 4 Shaun Williams (17 Alan Kirby 81 mins);
9 Gary O’Neill (15 Eric Foley 90 + 6 mins), 10 Eamon Zayed.
Subs not used: 12 Gareth Whelan, 14 Brian Gannon, 20 Chris Konopka
Booked: Williams 18 mins, Bayly 57 mins, McFaul 70 mins, Quigley 77 mins, Maher 89 mins
Referee: Declan Hanney (Dublin).