Institute's John Connolly is penalty hero against Newry City

Institute manager Brian Donaghey admitted his players went considerably up in his estimation following their battling scoreless draw against leaders Newry City on Saturday.

Institute goalkeeper John Connolly punches the air as he celebrates keeping out Newry City’s Daniel Hughes’ second half penalty. Picture by George Sweeney

Having a host of players missing through Covid and other illness, Donaghey’s squad were always going to be stretched, however the starting 11 in particular, limited the visitors to very few clear cut openings.

John Connolly’s second half penalty save to deny Daniel Hughes will grab all the headlines, but it was young defenders Shaun Leppard and Rhys McDermott who were resolute throughout the 90 minutes at the heart of the ’Stute defence.

“It was always going to be a massive test of character and I wanted the squad to just believe in themselves and not let Newry think they are getting a free-hit, so honestly I can’t speak highly enough of the boys,” he insisted.

“The boys went way, way up in my estimation as a group of young men and young players became men today.

“After what has happened over the last four days, which was probably the longest four days of my life with Covid and stuff, every time my phone went someone else was out.

“Shaun Leppard and Rhys McDermott were superb and you throw Tiernan Brown into the mix at left-back. He didn’t put a foot wrong against what I consider the two best forward minded players in the league in John McGovern and James Teelan, I think the two of them are electric and we nullified their threat, with young Brown playing a part in doing that.

“Every week I seem to be talking about Paddy McLaughlin, but again he was like a Rolls Royce. Both him and Brown are 17-year-olds so to have two full-backs at that age I have nothing but praise for them.

“I’m just so, so happy with all the boys’ character and I’m just so proud of all of them.”

A victory at Queen’s last Monday followed up with a battling point against the league leaders on Saturday, Donaghey was thrilled by both results and was pleased that his side have now kept two clean-sheets in their last couple of matches.

“We had six changes from the Queen’s game for the Newry game and we have five changes from the previous game before Queen’s so we have utilised the squad to maximum ability,” he added.

“We had two 15-year-olds and two 17-year-olds on the bench against Newry, so we are a very young squad and there will be people coming in and hopefully they’ll be available for the Irish Cup tie against Portstewart and hopefully we’ll have a few more signings this week and then obviously we have four or five players with Covid, so look I’ll be glad to see them back and everyone available again for us.

“Whenever we have everyone available I’ll have that wee bit more options and have that wee bit more quality, but as I said to a man today (Saturday) they were all superb.

“Our shape was good and we never really got cut-open, Okay, we probably weren’t as big a threat going forward as I would have liked us to be, but I was still proud of the boys.

“I actually thought their penalty was a foul out, because I seen Joel Gorman play the ball down the right hand side, your natural momentum is for your leg to go forward and their striker came in on his blind side and never even seen him and suddenly he goes down, I thought it was going to be a free-out, but when he gave a penalty I couldn’t believe it.

“John Connolly makes a great save, but I was shocked the penalty was actually given.”