It was the night when Linfield were hit for six and Cliftonville supporters started saying: ‘Rory Donnelly — remember the name’.
Donnelly’s sensational hat-trick not only rocked the Blues, his fireworks alerted cross-channel clubs to a prodigious talent with the world at his feet.
In tonight’s Paddy Power County Antrim Shield final at the Oval (7.45pm) the teenage sensation will be the apprentice at one end of the pitch while Glentoran striker Gary Hamilton will be the master at the other end.
While Hamilton plans to be the man for the big occasion yet again, Donnelly will be dreaming of repeating the heroics that swept aside one half of the Big Two in an amazing 6-2 Shield semi-final triumph at Solitude last month.
While clubs fight among themselves to take Donnelly off the Reds’ hands in January, the Glens defence will be scrambling to keep the wonderkid quiet tonight.
Premiership side Everton have now joined the race for the dangerman, with other reports indicating that Burnley hope to agree a £100,000 deal to snap up the striker in January.
A Toffees scout was at Solitude on Saturday to see the Reds beat Glentoran 2-1 though the Northern Ireland under-21 international failed to add to his 14-goals tally this season.
The Reds’ 6-2 demolition of Linfield sent shockwaves around the local game but five-times capped Northern Ireland international Hamilton knows disaster can strike any side at any moment.
“You never expect to see a team like Linfield concede six goals but it can happen in the game and we have seen it happen in England as well this season,” said Hamilton who has shaken off the painful effects of a toe injury sustained in the 2-2 draw with Crusaders.
“No-one could have predicted Manchester City winning 6-1 at Manchester United or United beating Arsenal 8-2. I keep saying that teams like Cliftonville can dish out heavy punishment.
“But these freak results only happen once in a blue moon and I can’t see it happening to Linfield in another few years. But we go into the Shield final knowing the threat the Reds pose.”
While Donnelly is the biggest attacking threat facing the Glens, Scott Young’s side have deadly ammunition of their own with Stephen Carson weaving his magic on the wing.
“Stephen isn’t going to be a player who runs back all the time and gets tackles in but you have to accept that if you want the player to hurt the opposition,” said Hamilton.
“The one thing you have to do when you have Stephen Carson in your team is give him the ball and let him play.”
Glentoran won the toss that gives them home advantage but no-one in the home dressing room is dancing with delight at that development given their form at the Oval this season.
“You think back to defeats against Ballymena United and Donegal Celtic and there’s no logical explanation for them but that’s the facts,” added Hamilton. “It’s up to us to rectify it.”