Belfast Telegraph

Glentoran v Linfield: Sean’s star rose in east with winner at Windsor

By Chris Holt

Mention the name Sean Armstrong to anyone of a Glentoran persuasion and watch as a smile immediately spreads across their face.

The bustling striker, a nephew of Northern Ireland World Cup hero Gerry, may not go down as an all-time great down Mersey Street way, but for one particular goal, the man they call ‘Army' will forever be held in the highest regard.

It was 11 years ago this week, when Glentoran and Linfield clashed in the semi-final of the Irish Cup — as they will do once again today — in what is regarded as one of the most epic ties of a generation.

The Blues had already picked up the league title, taking the crown from the Glens, who, as usual, had failed miserably in their bid to retain the championship and at Windsor Park David Jeffrey's men were favourites to go on and make it to the final and in turn claim a domestic double.

It hadn't been a disastrous season at the Oval — they had won the Co Antrim Shield and the Gold Cup — but there was an underlying feeling of frustration that a talented squad hadn't shown enough consistency to win another title and so the Irish Cup was Glentoran's final hope of ending the campaign with a major honour.

Standing in their way though, was an equally adept Linfield side – David Larmour in superb goalscoring form; Glenn Ferguson just beginning to show signs of the greatness he would bestow on that blue shirt; Tony (or Anthony, only to his mum and David Jeffrey) Gorman pulling the strings in the middle of the park and at the back, in Noel Bailie and William Murphy, by far the best central defensive partnership around.

In front of a great crowd and entrenched by an electric atmosphere, both teams served up a cracking cup tie.

Linfield took the lead through Larmour before a well-struck free-kick from Rory Hamill, just seconds before the interval put the rivals level at half-time.

Buoyed by that, an early second-half goal from Stuart Elliott, whose last minute equaliser had saved the Glens from an embarrassing defeat at the hands of Armagh City earlier in the competition, had Glentoran in the box seat and heading for another big day out.

What followed, though, was one of the most dramatic finales Windsor Park has ever witnessed.

Linfield probed and pressed, but it looked as though the Glens defence was going to hold out.

That was until the fourth minute of injury time when a deep ball from just inside the Glentoran half found Murphy, who rose to power home an amazing equaliser.

Cue bedlam in the stands housing the Linfield fans, many of whom had been leaving the ground, not wishing to watch as the enemy celebrated victory. Murphy ran the length of the pitch, back up to the Kop Stand to milk the applause, blowing kisses to the jubilant blue army.

However, it wasn't over yet and Armstrong, a 74th minute substitute for Brian Russell, picks up the story.

"We were devastated because we felt that we had blown it and we would have gone into a replay probably still feeling a bit down, with Linfield having scored so late," he recalls.

"Their tails would have been up and everyone would have fancied them to beat us then.

"You always play until the final whistle, but as soon as we centred I was thinking the referee was going to blow up any second.

"The ball was knocked around a bit and eventually Rory Hamill got it down the left. He put in a great cross and I just managed to get in ahead of (Linfield goalkeeper) Paul Mathers and head it in. It was just unbelievable — you couldn't write the script.

"My immediate reaction was just to run to the dugout and everyone around me was just going crazy.

"The noise from the fans was incredible and after things had calmed down a bit you could see that the Linfield players and fans were distraught.

"I didn't know it at the time, but it was mentioned later that their fans had come running back into the ground to celebrate, just in time to see us score, which I suppose from the Glentoran fans’ point of view made it sweeter.

"It is definitely one of the highlights of my career, purely because of what was at stake and against your biggest rivals. It is nice that people still talk about it to this day.

"I had only just broken into the first team a few months before that so it was great to be able to make my mark."

Armstrong revealed that the professionalism that Roy Coyle brought to the club meant that jubilations were kept to a minimum, with a curt reminder that 'you haven't won anything yet' ringing in the players' ears. However, the man of the hour admits that his personal celebrations carried on.

"We had a few beers on the bus back, though Roy Coyle was never keen on us doing that... I think we sneaked a couple up our sleeves," joked Armstrong.

"We went back to the Park Avenue Hotel and had a couple of drinks, but as a group we didn't celebrate too much.

"I have to say, though, that when I left the rest of them I celebrated a wee bit longer than they did and mine went long into the night."

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