The new football season is still in nappies and yet I suspect that the remaining five-months may not give us the collective drama of it’s opening cup final.
An action packed, incident laden 120-minute feast as epic as Gladiator in 3D served up a hat-trick of red cards and seven goals as Carloway drew first blood in the hunt for silverware.
Blood, sweat and no lack of powderkeg moments combined for a cup final classic as the neighbouring districts clashed in the second west coast derby in a week.
If West Side and Carloway squared up every week the Lewis and Harris League would be among the most exciting and unpredictable in the country.
Throughout 120-pulsating minutes both sides went toe to toe, trading goals, trading bruising tackles and blows, and all the supporters who filed into Goathill Park went home content they had their money’s worth, if half were not thrilled with the result.
Both managers deserve enormous credit for the way they sent their teams out on the front foot, to attack the other, not to sit back and contain, but to press forward and take the game right to the jugular of the other.
Dan Crossley and Cameron Macarthur were both red carded in extra-time as Carloway played out the latter stages with nine-men. Duncan Maclean followed the pair up the tunnel before the end after being dismissed for West Side.
Sponsors Man of the Match at the end was the Carloway keeper Gordon Craigie. A modern-day Roy of the Rovers story of a player who after some 20 years with his home village club departed for a brief spell in which Carloway won a series of trophies and the Lewis and Harris league title for the first time.
Upon his return he was on the losing end of a number of cup finals as he began to fear he would never win a winners medal with his beloved Carloway.
Finally, the hoodoo has been lifted and Craigie produced a string of terrific saves during the match to help Carloway win the Acres Boys Club Cup as the veteran striker turned keeper picked up a precious medal for the first time in his quarter of a century service.
West Side scored some cracking goals and dominated the ball from open play for long spells while Carloway refused to yield a yard, worked seamlessly in tandem with one another and were a constant threat on the counter attack.
While it was the Carloway fans dancing in the stand as the light began to fade on Friday night, both sets of supporters will surely have enjoyed the game as a whole, a 120-minute roller-coaster of emotions.
For the cup winners Craigie was superb as he was named sponsor TechMobile Man of the Match.
The twinkle-toed Dan Crossley, red card challenge aside, was excellent. DI Maclennan was outstanding. Jake Allan ran his socks off, and neutralised in the main, the attacking threat of Duncan Maclean. But Eachainn Miller was the needle sewing thread. The teenage midfielder is already a star turn in midfield in what is his first full season as a senior.
West Side too had a number of impressive performers. Ali ‘Barvas’ Macleod continued his impressive start to the new season with another display of endless running, invention and desire. Scott Graham was a tireless force in the midfield and kid goals Luke Mackay belied his 15-years with a brave display up top against a physical Carloway rearguard before limping off the field after being crocked by Crossley.
It was West Side who roared out of the traps quickest with a lung-bursting tempo. Early on the jet-heeled Luke Mackay cranked through the gears to motor clear of the Carloway back line but his touch was heavy and the ball rolled away from him and allowed Craigie the chance to nip out and scoop up the ball off the striker’s toe.
They went ahead on 15-minutes when Duncan Maclean rolled a free kick five yards to his right for Innes Iain Morrison to smash first time from all of 30-yards. Craigie was left rooted like a statue as the ball whizzed inside the post for the opening goal.
The hunger was apparent from both sides, with both trying to ensure the tempo of the match was frenetic from the start.
Both sides have defenders more than competent in the air yet they were both undone by balls into the box in the final. Goals arrived for both sides from deliveries into the heart of the penalty area and a number more caused chaos and panic throughout.
It was through a set-piece delivery which Carloway drew level as a corner was whipped in with West keeper Iain Gillies misjudging the flight of the ball and being caught underneath it which allowed DI Maclennan to thunder home a header on the run from just a yard out.
Another ball into the box brought a second goal for Carloway as West’s fragility threatened much of their good work in other areas.
A bouncing ball was clipped into the box but there was little danger as both Gillies and a West Side stopper moved towards the ball. Inexplicably both left the ball for the other and it bounced comically between the pair of them and sat up invitingly for Archie Macdonald to prod into the empty net for Carloway.
The half ended with Craigie bravely denying Martainn Shields, Scott Graham having a shot cleared off the line and Luke Mackay screwing wide.
The second-half continued in the same vein in which the first finished with Craigie having his palms warmed by West Side shots on goal.
Mackay was denied from close range with Craigie popping up instantly to claw away a second effort from Gordon Campbell.
Next Ali ‘Barvas’ dinked the ball to the far post where Shields had made up the ground unchallenged but he headed into the ground and wide.
West Side were asking most of the questions although Carloway remained dangerous on the break. Kenny ‘Dokus’ Macdonald had a sight of goal as he met the ball with a near post dash but his effort lacked the power or direction to trouble the Siarach net.
With 18 minutes left to play West Side finally drew level when Johnny Wallace’s run across the box was rewarded as his glancing header flashed into the roof of the net.
Four minutes into extra-time and the pendulum of power swung in Carloway’s favour once again when DI Maclennan’s inch perfect right to left switch dissected the West Side defence and the galloping Archie Macdonald headed into the ground sending the ball looping over Gillies without having to break stride.
Crossley rolled the ball across face of goal and a foot wide of the far post as they threatened the slap the handcuffs on the ABC Cup – by now being readied on the sidelines.
The Carloway fans were still recounting their near miss when they watched West Side draw level once more as the ebb and flow of the game continued.
Luke Mackay leapt highest in the box to guide a header towards sub Jamie Sullivan who controlled the ball on his chest before rifling the ball into the bottom corner from 12 yards for 3-3. Game on all over again.
There was no let up and Carloway regained the lead again on 102 minutes as Johnny Wallace went from second-half hero to extra-time villain
Ross Maciver and Kevin ‘Barra’ MacNeil linked up with the latter driving a cross into the box which was headed past his own goalkeeper by the unfortunate Wallace.
The drama was far from over though as both sides had players sent packing.
Crossley was first to go as he earned a straight red for an x-rated tackle on Luke Mackay. Crossley is far from a malicious player and over the years he is usually the one on the receiving end of late and dangerous tackles.
But this season the midfielder seems to have spent the winter taking tips from the Paul Scholes’ school of tackling. The ex-Man United ace was a notoriously poor tackler and often got himself into bother with his own challenges. Now Crossley has earned a straight red for a bad tackle just a week after the same player made two very poor challenges in a match against Ness which went unpunished but were equally late and reckless.
The West Side twitter feed dubbed him #Danimal which is more than a little harsh but he will need to be careful with his challenges.
Cameron Macarthur followed him up the tunnel before the end of extra-time after picking up a second yellow card for a trip on Innes Iain Morrison
Then as time peetered out Duncan Maclean was ordered to the sidelines for a second yellow card of his own as the final ended with nine vs ten.
By now the players were running on empty but West Side laid siege to the Carloway goal but the nine held firm to win the 2016 season’s first trophy