JUBILANT Team Forward celebrated their first Sunday League Rollinson Cup crown in style after a solid 4-1 victory against Heywood Irish Centre.
Goals by Marcus Hefner, Javin Clarke, Damian McKenzie and McKinley Taylor earned Ryan Buckley’s side a deserved victory, with quality strikes worthy of gracing any cup final.
Irish Centre, who have played in the national FA Carlsberg Sunday Cup for the past two seasons, were soon on the attack but against the run of play Hefner fired Forward ahead on 12 minutes when he cut inside and unleashed a cracking drive which dipped over goalkeeper Kevin Ashe and dropped under the bar.
Worse was to follow for the Irish when Clarke added a second just five minutes later when he got on the end of a clinical five-man move and tore through the heart of the Irish’s midfield before burying a low shot which beat the keeper for pace.
Irish, however, re-awoke and when Joe Pinnock, who was a colossus at the back for Forward, fouled Adam Bell just outside the area, Ashley Flynn stepped up and curled a beauty past keeper Damian Brooks.
During an entertaining half Irish squandered a great chance to level on 31 minutes but when Flynn pulled the ball back to Adam Bell in time and space, the striker’s attempt was comfortably gathered by the keeper.
Flynn was gifted another free-kick chance on 41 minutes but, despite his good effort to curl the ball around the wall from 22-yards out, Brooks got down well to scoop it away.
Hungry Forward hit back before the break through a determined run by McKenzie.
He epitomised his side’s desire to win the cup with a direct run through the centre. He bounced back after a strong challenge from a defender and regained his feet once again after rounding the keeper but Ashe recovered just in time to get a hand on the ball and divert it for a corner.
Both sides cancelled each other out after the restart but Irish captain John Higgins made the second half explode into life on 64 minutes when he peeled away from his marker and struck a fierce goalbound shot which brought the best out of keeper Brooks who got a hand to palm the ball over the bar.
But Forward increased their lead on 72 when Leevan Brown showed good vision to pick out McKenzie and despite the keeper getting a hand to the ball, McKenzie recovered to force the ball home from close range.
Higgins went close to reducing the deficit for Irish but he headed Bell’s free-kick wide.
Irish’s main threat came from set pieces but they were restricted to long range shots by a Forward’s back line which was well-marshalled by Pinnock.
Taylor added a fourth on 77 minutes after leaving a defender grounded and he drove ahead before unleashing a cracking shot for a 4-1 lead which left the keeper rooted.
Irish’s last chance fell to Bell from Flynn’s pass but his side-foot from an angle was saved before the final whistle sparked cheers all round from the jubilant Team Forward camp.
Heywood Irish Centre: K Ashe, M Jagger, A Kalinowski, J Higgins, C Keady, T Hall, M Tattersley, N Jagger, J P Flynn, A Bell, A Flynn. Subs: D Henighan, G McLachlan, P Quinn, K Boothroyd.
Team Forward: D Brooks, S Wilson, L Hill, M Fill, P Cook, J Pinnock, M Hefner, L Brown, D McKenzie, J Clarke, N McMahon. Subs: R Buckley, C Bedeau, M Taylor, L David, A Douglas.
Referee: Vic Murray; Assistants: John Connolly and Seaton Waddington.