FLAME-HAIRED Gareth McKibben lit up this Toals Harry Clarke Cup semi-final at Bear Park with an electrifying hat-trick to send Castlewellan seconds through to an Easter showdown with Annalong Swifts.
McKibben produced several moments of sheer footballing magic that yielded three goals and he was aided and abetted by Conor Doyle and a clinker from Noel Travers.
The game got off to a pretty inauspicious start with neither side able to put their foot on the ball and for a while it was helter-skelter stuff.
The first real opening fell to Catlewellan’s Aidy Dornan on 12 minutes, but he fluffed his lines when he got into the six yard box and could find the side netting. Less than a minute later a benevolent Drumaness defence allowed Doyle all the time in the world when he created a shooting chance after taking a throw in from McKibben, but he shot straight at Jim Wright from the edge of the box.
A lacklustre Drumaness finally carved out an opening in the 17th minute when Paul Walsh headed a Gavin Mooney corner into the path of Neil Walsh, but he was a hair’s breadth from getting a good connection and his effort flew wide of the target.
Seven minutes later Castlewellan made the breakthrough out of nothing. Conall Corrigan, who was a revelation in a central midfield role, headed a Wright kick out to the feet of McKibben, who was a good 40 yards from goal, but totally unmarked.
The teenage sensation didn’t have to be told twice and he took off like a scalded cat before lobbing a stranded Wright with an imperious lobbed effort.
It was a goal good enough to win any cup semi-final, but there was even more to come from him later on.
With 40 minutes gone Patrick McCartan lost his marker and set up Neil Walsh, but Danny Cassidy saved well.
The first half had just moved into added time when Castlewellan made it 2-0. Doyle forced the Mills into a rash clearance following a long throw, but the ball sat up nicely for Travers, who let fly from 25 yards out and his strike sailed over Wright and into the top corner of the net.
Any hopes of a second half fightback from Drumaness were quickly dispelled when Castlewellan duly made it 3-0 in the 46th minute. The industrious Dornan won the ball just a few yards outside his own box and stealthily pushed forward.
On seeing McKibben wide left and in space, Dornan immediately fed the dangerous McKibben, who left Barry Russell for dead after he slipped and beat Wright at his near post with a stinging daisy cutter.
With 50 minutes gone it was 4-0 when former Doyle finished a Dornan through ball with aplomb with the Mills all over the shop.
Drumaness were now battered and bruised, but they refused to throw in the towel and bravely fought on, but it just wasn’t happening for them in front of goal.
Castlewellan, McKibben in particular, remained a threat and he was denied a hat-trick in the 68th minute when the upright came to Drumaness’ rescue after Lee Ward played him in.
The young striker made amends two minutes later when he latched on to a pass from his brother Niall and promptly produced another deft lob to beat Wright all ends up.
Castlewellan parked the bus after this and eased to a surprisingly comfortable win.
Castlewellan II: D Cassidy, C Magorrian, N Travers, C Burns, S Connolly, C Corrigan, L Ward, J O’Neill, G McKibben, C Doyle, A Dornan. Subs: E Travers, N Toner, N McKibben, J McCourt, P McVeigh.
Drumaness Mills Reserves: J Wright, B Russell, K Boyd, M Rainey, G Walsh, G Mooney, P Walsh, P Morgan, N Walsh, P McCartan, A Somers. Subs: T Walsh, M Drake, D Bell, G Boyd, S Carson.
Castlewellan II 5
Drumaness Reserves 0
HARRY CLARKE CUP SEMI-FINAL