• David Lacey heads tenth-minute opener from a James Lee cross
• Eastern Region IRL successfully deny Zagreb space to attack until late on
• Beaten 2011 finalists get hands on biggest prize in amateur football
An early goal at Tallaght Stadium proved enough for Eastern Region IRL as they edged out a stylish Zagreb team in the UEFA Regions' Cup final.
Shorn of the suspended Antun Strjački and with injury forcing linchpin Božidar Kramaratić to start on the bench, Zagreb were not their usual resilient selves. The Irish side took the game to them and were ahead in the tenth minute, James Lee's ball in from the right met with a confident header from David Lacey. Lee might have had a second, missing after a scramble left Stipe Nevistić well off his line, and Laurence Dunne's shot on goal was just a small deflection away from beating the goalkeeper.
Sreten Ćuk's side have thrived on exhausting opponents with their passing and cracking them open as their focus wavers. But it was Gerry Smith's men who kept Zagreb running in the first half, Rilwan Sule on the right helping to break down attacking moves at source. Zagreb were not entirely out of it, though; Dorian Puretić smashed a long-range shot at Paul Breen and Brendan O'Connell needed to be alert to field a Filip Perić flick.
The 1,172-strong crowd were treated to a couple of Irish half-chances early on, but Zagreb started to impose their game on Eastern Region as time drew on. The unexpected arrival of Karamatić as a substitute – the set-piece man having seemingly been ruled out through injury – was a further cause for concern for home coach Gerry Smith. However, a Josip Mohač shot from distance and a Karamatić miscue were the most tangible return for their efforts.
Eastern Region counterpunched with increasing confidence, James Carr and Laurence Dunne striking off target, and even the presence of Karamatić – by general consent the most gifted player at the Dublin finals – could not regain Zagreb the momentum as the clock ticked down. Nevistić fielded a powerful Noel Murray free-kick but O'Connell – not for the first time this tournament – was left with little to occupy him at the other end.
The home side's captain Kenneth Hoey still remembers the "sickening" feeling of walking past the trophy after his side lost the 2011 final; this time it is someone else's turn.
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