Wizards win penalty shootout to retain Eddie Merry Memorial Cup

Merlins Bridge celebrate winning Eddie Merry Cup final

Eddie Merry Memorial Cup final:

Merlins Bridge 3-3 St Dogmaels

(Merlins Bridge win 8-7 on penalties)

It went to the wire, but it was Merlins Bridge who claimed the Eddie Merry Memorial Cup last night after a dramatic final with St Dogmaels, writes Fraser Watson.

The Wizards fought back from being 2-0 down early on and seemingly sealed the pre-season silverware when Joe Leahy struck in the dying minutes - only for St Dogmaels captain Jason Williams to head in deep into injury time.

An intense penalty shoot-out then went down to the ninth round of takers, and it culminated in Chris Brown scoring the winner as Bridge retained the trophy they last won in 2019.

Bridge forced to battle back

Both sides reached the final courtesy of comfortable semi finals win during the week, St Dogmaels beating hosts Fishguard Sports 4-1 before the Bridge overcame Monkton Swifts 4-0.

But on a blustery night at Tregroes, it was the Cardiganshire side who started the better, taking a 2-0 first half lead as a Rhys Jones strike was followed up with a stunning 30-yard effort from Louis Harding.

Joe Leahy pulled one back before the break though and midway through the second half, Bridge levelled when Scott Ferney poked in from close range.

But Gareth Williams' side were also indebted to a string of fine saves from keeper James Dickson, and his contribution appeared pivotal when with five minutes left, a defensive mix-up at the other end allowed Leahy to pounce and side foot home what seemed to be the winner.

There was still time for St Dogmaels to rescue matters however, and they duly did so when Williams rose highest from a corner and planted his header home.

Joe Leahy receives cup from Nigel Davies

Dickson saves twice in the shootout

It was Dickson who then cemented a man of the match display by being the hero in the shootout.

He saved one of the original five St Dogmaels penalties - would have been two had one stop not been overturned for leaving his line too early - only for Will Haworth to then miss when he had the chance to win it for Bridge.

But with the score 7-7 after eight spot kicks each, Dickson saved again before Brown fired high into the net to eventually settle matters.

The Thomas family celebrate Eddie Merry successA fitting tribute returns

The Eddie Merry tournament has long become an integral part of the pre-season campaign in Pembrokeshire and Fishguard Chairman Owen Duggan declared his delight at its return after being postponed in 2020 due to Covid-19.

Duggan, whose hard work was again instrumental in the running of things, thanked both sides post-match and also presented mementoes to the officials on the night, referee Sean O'Connor and assistants Gareth Elliott and Marty Jones.

It was then Fishguard President Nigel Davies who presented the trophy to Bridge skipper Leahy - with around £350 thought to have been raised for the Abergwaun Gateway Club.

'Taffy' pleased with a tough test

Afterwards, Bridge manager Gareth 'Taffy' Williams declared him happy after his side came through a real test.
"We were expecting a tough game against a physical side," he said.

"In the first half they put their authority on the game and battled for everything and we weren't quite prepared and had to change things.

"But it's better to have this type of test. It's about getting momentum and you want to be challenged in pre-season, it prepares you better and gives you a sense of reality about the season ahead."

But more so, Williams was just pleased to be back in the swing of another football season.

"it's absolutely brilliant, it's our escapism," he said.

"Whatever you're into - football, rugby, whatever - sport is needed and I was delighted when we were told firstly our juniors were going back and then the seniors after that. You can see how much the boys have missed it.

"Sport is important and just being able to play again is brilliant. It's what life is all about."