‘The Whites’ overcame amateur football’s kingpins Crumlin Star with a clinical performance to earn a place in the Christmas showpiece final.
Played at Seaview, home of Crusaders, the game started at a frantic pace with both teams probing the others defence without creating any clear cut chances.
The first chance of note came when Ruairi Fitzpatrick cut in from the right and flashed a left footed drive wide of the left upright.
The Star had a chance of their own when their striker turned well on the edge of the box only to see his low shot go inches wide of the right post. Rathfriland then took control of the game with a blend of solid defending and slick attacking. On the 40 minute mark, Andy Kilmartin slid a ball into Adam Neale’s feet who weaved brilliantly past two Star defenders before snatching his shot straight at the keeper.
Half time 0-0.
The second period started with Rathfriland’s midfield of Matthew Holloway, Jordan Hayes and Andy Kilmartin well in control.
Lee Newell did have the ball in the Star net after 55 mins but was adjudged off-side.
Soon after a ball from Harry Campbell on the right found Neale at the back post who volleyed over the bar.
Although the Whites were on top Crumlin Star always looked dangerous on the break.
The decisive moment came in the 84th minute, when the impressive Holloway was fouled on the edge of the box for a free kick in a dangerous position.
Ruairi Fitzpatrick stepped up and curled the ball past the stranded keeper to snatch the lead.
Although the Star never gave up the fight, Rathfriland held on comfortably to deservedly book a spot in the final against either Killyleagh YC or Derriaghy CC on Tuesday 28th December.
Crumlin Star: D Smyth; B O’Neill, A McNeill, P Prigent (P McIlkenny 32), M Lyons (S Smyth 85); J McNeill, S McBurney (C Murphy 55), K Trainor, D Fearon, J Doyle, B McKervey.
Rathfriland Rangers: Bryan McMullan, Danny Devlin, Jack Graham, Ruairi Fitzpatrick, Andy Kilmartin, Lee Newell, Adam Neale, Matthew Holloway (Ross Black 92), Jordan Hayes (Rhys Kelly 80), Harry Campbell, Brian Johnston. Unused: Sam McCallister.