This Saturday evening the focus of all Junior soccer aficionados in the border counties will be concentrated on Maginn park Buncrana where Group D leaders the MCL will be aspiring to create local history when they meet 2015 Oscar Traynor champions the Inishowen league (5pm kick off).
Both sides have already impressively secured group qualification with one game to spare with victories over the Donegal and Sligo & Leitrim leagues.The MCL currently occupy top spot in group D courtesy of having a slightly superior goal difference.On Saturday evening next a draw would be sufficent for the MCL to secure home advantage in the knockout stages when the competition will be whittled down to just twelve teams.Indeed there is also a possibility that the group winners could also receive a bye straight into the round of eight(quarter finals) but that would be determined by the final outcome of the other groups involved in this years competition.
This seasons campaign has witnessed the MCL make groundbreaking progress in the Oscar Traynor cup.They set out on November 6th with a visit to Drumoghill and the daunting challenge of 2016 semi-finalists the Donegal Junior league.On the day the MCL were dominant from a very early stage as they had the homesters reeling with goals from Dean Connolly and Gary Hessin just reward for a most impressive all round team display.Although the Tir Chonaill side did pull a goal back in the second half it just proved to be a consolation for a shell shocked Donegal outfit.In their second group fixture on November 27th the MCL had a home tie as they welcomed the Sligo & Leitrim league to John Sherlock park Cootehill.Once again the MCL were well up to the task on hand even though the opening forty five minutes proved to be a rather cagey affair.Mark Thornton gave the MCL a 43rd minute lead only for the Connaught side to get a equaliser inside a minute later. The introduction of two half time substitutes proved to be the catalyst for a improved second half performance.
Substitute Ronan Stirrat restored the MCL lead on 47 minutes before Thornton was on target once again to make it 3-1 but the visitors gained a unlikely lifeline as they pulled a goal back on 87 mins.However this proved to be as good as it got as the MCL stepped up a gear to win 5-2 with late strikes from Ronan Stirrat and Stephen Smith.
This is only the fourth occasion since 1987 that the MCL have advanced past the first phase of the Oscar Traynor. In ’87 and 1998 (another successful year)the competition was being run on a straight knock out basis.Group qualification was first introduced in 2005 and the MCL did indeed also advance on that occasion as runners up in a section that was won by Inishowen but also included the might of the Roscommon league and the Meath & District league (now known as NEFL).
This Saturday the MCL will once again go in as underdogs as Inishowen have been a perennial feature in the latter stages of the Oscar Traynor as they have been Champions,runners up and semi-finalists on at least two occasions in recent seasons.
However their 2015/16 campaign was a well below par performance by their own high standards and they were also far from their best in their last Oscar Traynor outing this season when it took a late winner (2-1) to see off the challenge of an already deflated Donegal Junior league selection at Maginn park.Indeed a sending off in their opening group game in Ray McSharry park proved to be the turning point in a 3-1 win at Sligo/Leitrim.
The MCL will go into this contest full of confidence and if they do succeed in winning group D it will indeed be a historic occasion in the annals of local junior soccer.All clubs are asked to travel to Buncrana on Saturday and support their league representative side as Brian Smith and Kevin Dowds charges bid to keep the MCL flag proudly flying on the national stage.