Read how Kirkwall Hotspurs sealed the Brough Cup
The Orkney Cheese ‘A’ League reached a thrilling conclusion on Tuesday, August 27, as Kirkwall rivals Rovers and Hotspurs met at the Bignold, in front of the biggest crowd at a league fixture for a number of years.
The 2019 season has been something of a rollercoaster, with the top five teams taking points off each other throughout, leading to an exciting title race.
A draw would be enough for Hotspurs to end a 12-year wait for the Brough Cup, given their head-to-head advantage, while Rovers needed the three points to win their first championship since 2015.
Both sides fielded strong line-ups. Craig Clouston and Callan Jessiman were tasked with anchoring the midfield for Hotspurs, while Rovers lined up in a 3-5-2, spearheaded by Steven Tulloch and Zack Singh.
The opening stages were cagey, as the two teams felt each out. The big talking point of the opening half hour was an agricultural challenge by Scott Drever in the Rovers midfield. He went over the top of the ball on Jordan Low in the middle of the park, an offence referee Mike Cursiter saw fit to issue a caution to the midfielder, with Hotspurs looking for a red.
Aiden Drever saw a free-kick go narrowly wide of Davy Leonard’s post after 30 minutes, while Tulloch might have done better with a half chance just before the half-time whistle. A driven ball from Graeme Horne on the left was nodded on by Singh, but the veteran Rovers striker couldn’t direct his header on target, with Hotspurs appealing for an offside flag.
The match remained goalless at the break, with neither team having really got going.
The match was soon to kick into life in the second half. After 50 minutes, Rovers ‘keeper Liam Valentine made a hash of a clearance, booting the ball against Spurs striker Jerry McBeth. With the goal gaping, the Hotspurs striker was just about to pull the trigger when he was tripped by Valentine.
Cursiter awarded the free-kick, and after a long consultation with his linesman, deemed the challenge worthy of a yellow card only, despite the protestations of the away side. Joe Wilson’s effort from the set piece was tipped wide by the ‘keeper.
Just before the hour mark, Rovers saw their best chance come and go. A long ball found Connan Rendall on the right, who controlled it wonderfully before shuffling inside to the edge of the box. His drilled effort looked every inch a goal until Leonard flung himself down to his left to tip it round the post.
Moments later, the breakthrough was to come at the other end, as the match swung from end-to-end.
Aiden Drever was penalised for a foul on Logan Peace wide on Hotspurs left. The free-kick was flighted in but cleared out to Joe Wilson. His cross back in found Hotspurs legend Wayne Monkman at the back post, whose header floated over the stranded Valentine for the opening goal. Could Monkman’s goal be the fairytale ending for the defender on his final Hotspurs appearance?
Rovers now needed to score twice in the last 25 minutes to win the title, but in truth they found a well-marshalled away defence difficult to break down. Hotspurs had the bit between their teeth, with a first ‘A’ League title since 2007 now tantalisingly close.
The hosts’ task was made even more challenging when Aiden Drever was sent off for two bookings in quick succession with 12 minutes to go. From there, Hotspurs saw out the game relatively comfortably.
In the 90th minute, Valentine got caught underneath a high ball into the box, dropping it at the feet of substitute Jack Paterson. As the sub tried to get a shot away, he was impeded by the Rovers goalie, who saw his second yellow card of the evening to ensure his side would finish with nine men.
Seventeen-year-old midfielder Jessiman stepped up to coolly slot away the resultant penalty, ensuring Hotspurs would win the 2019 ‘A’ League, and sparking scenes of delight amongst their support on the sidelines.
OAFA president Colin MacLeod paid tribute to both sides for a hard-fought league campaign after the match, and invited up Hotspurs skipper Keith Harcus to receive the Brough Cup for his side.
Harcus — standing in for the injured Owen Rendall — paid tribute to his centre-back partner Monkman who is set to bow out of domestic football as an ‘A’ League champion and urged his teammates not to go another 12 years before landing the biggest prize in domestic football.