Monksland Utd's Stephen Francis and Clara Town's Robert McDonagh in action during the Paddy Cotter Cup final last Sunday. The two teams will meet again in a play-off for the CCFL Senior Division title.

Monksland to meet Clara in play-off for league crown

Willow Park 0 Monksland United 5

John Dingle

The CCFL Senior Division title will be decided by a play-off as an exciting finale to the league campaign last night saw Monksland United and Clara Town emerge as the remaining contenders.

Monksland needed to win on Wednesday evening and hope that the other game between Clara and Mullingar Town ended in stalemate. Clara were top of the table and knew that avoiding defeat would put them into at least a play-off.

A win for either side at Dalton Park would have seen them crowned champions, but Monksland's 5-0 win over Willow combined with the 1-1 draw between Clara and Mullingar means the Cushla Park outfit's dream of a domestic double is now dramatically back on track. Monksland are also in the Combined Counties Cup semi-finals, in which they will play Birr Town this Sunday.

In their final game of a disappointing campaign, Willow Park had nothing only pride to play for. Nevertheless, they would have been anxious to put in a good performance against their Athlone rivals. Monksland could only concentrate on their own game and hope that the news later on from Mullingar would be in their favour.

Monksland broke the deadlock midway through the first half. Shane Dolan set up Ryan O’Connor and the latter's low shot went past the keeper's left side to the net. Aidan Reilly had a great chance to double United's lead on 35 minutes but Damien Kelly gathered the ball following an inviting cross by Jinks.

Any nerves in the visitors' camp were settled with a second goal on 39 minutes. Dolan was again the provider and Jinks finished when shooting under the keeper. It left Monksland on course for victory and there was also good news from the north of the county with the Clara v Mullingar Town game scoreless at the break.

There was a dramatic restart when Monksland came close to making it three but Mickey Kelly got back to clear a Jinks shot off the line. The game turned against Willow just after the hour mark when Kelly was sent off for a foul close to the halfway line following a lengthy consultation between the referee and his assistant. It was a controversial decision to say the least.

At this stage, it looked like a Monksland win might be of little us as news was filtering through that Mullingar had taken the lead at home. In spite of their numerical disadvantage, Willow had a great chance to reduce the deficit midway through the half, but Mark McConnell volleyed over with the goal seemingly at his mercy.

United showed better finishing to seal victory with two goals in as many minutes. Dolan made it three on 71 minutes and then set up Stephen Francis, who obliged with a crisp low strike to the net. Clara had also equalised in Mullingar and United’s dream was again alive.

Willow kept trying for a consolation goal but Monksland completed the scoring in added time. It was tough on Willow to concede a fifth so late in the game as Dolan was rewarded with an opportunistic effort. The Willow keeper came out to head clear just outside the penalty area but could do little as Dolan returned the ball back into an unguarded net.

The final whistle soon sounded and Monksland then had to wait to see if their win would be in vain or would put them into a play-off. To add to the tension, the game in Mullingar was still on as the visitors made their way back to the dressing rooms.

The news eventually came that neither team had struck for a winner, meaning Tony O’Sullivan's men would have a chance to lift the title. Revenge will also be on the agenda against Clara in that play-off decider as Monksland look to avenge their Paddy Cotter Cup final defeat to the Offaly side.

Man of the match: Shane Dolan (Monksland). The number ten was involved in all five goals as he scored twice while also setting up the other three.

Monksland United: Cathal Hannon, Padraig Geraghty, Keith O’Reilly, Brian Francis, Kevin Gaylard, David O’Brien, Stephen Francis, Aidan Reilly, Dylan Jinks, Shane Dolan, Ryan O’Connor. Subs: Johnny Kiernan for Reilly (half-time); Alan Fox for O’Reilly (58 mins); Mark Greene and John Shine for Gaylard and Jinks (83).

Willow Park: Damien Kelly, Declan Fallon, Peter Sherlock, Robbie Shine, Mickey Kelly, Damien Rushe, Chris Reid, Bryan Hughes, Mark McConnell, Denzel Da Costa, Dylan Stewart. Subs: Garry McHugh for Reid (77 mins); Jayden Tumulty for McConnell (80).

Referee: Martin Kelly (Offaly).