Matthew Fitzpatrick delighted St John's didn't end up paying the penalty in Antrim SFC semi-final replay
“DON’T mention the penalty!” As he stood in the middle of the field at Glenavy minutes after Sunday’s titanic replay victory over Antrim kingpins Cargin, Matthew Fitzpatrick briefly considered trying to explain away his own spot-kick woe.
Eventually, he resigned himself to a rueful laugh at his own expense.
Leading by four in the second period of extra-time, referee Sean Laverty signalled for a penalty after Fitzpatrick was felled by James Laverty as he moved in on goal.
Seventy four minutes gone, the Antrim star – who had found the back of net what seemed like an eternity before – stepped up to all but ensure the Johnnies’s county final spot.
But, just as he was about to pull the trigger, Fitzpatrick’s left foot gave way on the softened sod and he skewed his shot wide of John McNabb’s right post.
“Have you seen the square?” he said after, swinging around and pointing at the offending patch of turf.
“Anyway… never again. See as soon as that didn’t go in, all I was thinking about was those people that make memes on Twitter.
“I’ll be on about a hundred of them now.”
He wasn’t wrong.
By the time the 23-year-old was heading for home, one friend had already tweeted an image of Fitzpatrick’s head on John Terry’s body, a far from subtle nod to the former Chelsea skipper’s famous missed penalty in the 2008 Champions League final.
In the end, it didn’t matter a jot as St John’s went on to finish the job in impressive fashion.
The odd Photoshopped effort may pop up on his timeline in the coming days but, ultimately, Fitzpatrick’s faux pas will be little more than a footnote in what could prove an historic day for the west Belfast club.
On Sunday they take on Lamh Dhearg in a novel Antrim Championship pairing, the first time in 19 years that St Gall’s or Cargin will not occupy one of the two dressing rooms on D-day.
And Fitzpatrick feels the young Johnnies – backboned by the Antrim U21 championship-winning sides of 2014 and 2015 – finally came of age in ending Cargin’s three in-a-row bid.
Having been reeled in late on the first time they met, the Toome outfit again clawed back a three point deficit at the end of normal time to send the game into extra-time.
But when St John’s seized control again, they didn’t let go.
“We were five up last week against Cargin, who are a quality team, and we made mistakes to let them back into it. We were three up this time and that probably creeps in again,” admitted Fitzpatrick.
“When it did happen, it took unbelievable resolve and mental strength to come back from it again. We’re learning – we’re still young. Most of this team has been together from minor, and you learn by your mistakes.
“Sometimes it’s hard to take, like last week was; I’m just glad we came back from it today. We’re in a good place now, we’ve a very tough game next week against Lamh Dhearg, another quality team.
“But overall it showed the mental strength we have to come back from it.”
Fitzpatrick has no recollection of the last time St John’s took the county crown in 1998 – “Gearoid Adams tells me about it all the time” – and was keen to deflect talk of bringing an end to that wait.
He added: “We’ve beaten Cargin but we haven’t done anything yet. If we go on and get beat next week, then this doesn’t mean anything.
“Cargin are a great team and it’s great for us to beat them and put them out, but Lamh Dhearg are just as good and we’ve had rivalries with them from underage.
“We know a lot of their players, we’re mates with them, but at the same time we’re rivals for the next week.”
And the Johnnies playmaker insists that, despite two hugely demanding clashes with Cargin in as many weeks, the players will be raring to go by the time Sunday comes around.
“We’re all young enough,” he said.
“If we can’t play two matches in two weeks, you may as well not be here, so we’ll be fine that way. We’ll just recover most of the week and get ready to go again.”