Braidmen can enjoy special end to the season with Braniff, says Kane
H&W Welders 1 Ballymena Utd 3
Free-scoring Tony Kane believes Ballymena United have struck it rich with the recent capture of Kevin Braniff.
The 33-year-old made an instant impression on his debut by hitting a glorious double at Tillysburn Park, which helped the Braidmen book a slot in the quarter-finals of the Tennent's Irish Cup - they will now entertain rivals Coleraine on March 4.
Snapped up from Glenavon only last week, Braniff had to settle for a place on the bench, but was introduced earlier than anticipated due to a first-half injury to Joe McKinney.
And he had the away support dancing with delight when he headed his team level with only 16 minutes remaining after veteran striker Davy Rainey had given H&W Welders a shock lead.
Kane then lashed home a free-kick in extra-time before Braniff sealed the deal when his drive rolled under Samuel Johnston.
"I thought Kevin was excellent," said Kane. "He hasn't played for a few weeks, but he showed great composure and took his goals really well.
"He is a quality player. His link-up play is top drawer, which is good for me and big Jenks (Allan Jenkins) playing with him in the middle. Kevin made a big difference when he came on."
Kane just can't stop scoring. His 20-yard wonder strike was his 17th goal of the season - 12 have come from the penalty spot.
"I joked earlier in the season I set a target of 20, but that is now realistic," added Kane. "It's my best ever return. I'm playing in a midfield role this season, so it gives me the chance to get forward more. The goals just keep coming - long may it continue.
"The most important thing is being in the next round. It's always a difficult game down here (at Tillysburn). The Welders do you no favours, they always give it a good go. They are a well organised side.
"But these matches are all about getting through, it doesn't really matter about the performance. We are in the next round and that's what matters."
With a top-four place in the league up for grabs, an Irish Cup quarter-final tie looming plus a League Cup final against Carrick Rangers on the horizon, Kane agrees it could be a fantastic end to the season for the Sky Blues.
"It's a big incentive for us," he added. "But we can't afford to get carried away, we can't take our eye off the ball. Although I haven't got good memories from my last appearance in the Irish Cup final, having been sent off in the 2-1 defeat by Glenavon, it would be great to get to the final again, but that's a long way off.
"First up is a massive league game against Crusaders next week."
Welders boss Gary Smyth said he was proud of his team, who had Gary Spence dismissed on 113 minutes after he picked up a second yellow card.
"I thought we deserved to keep Ballymena honest by taking them to a penalty shoot-out," said Smyth. "I'm gutted for the boys. I thought we deserved more for our efforts.
"That's the best I've seen us play for a long time, we worked hard. It was like the Welders of last season. Ballymena were a big, strong side - they are difficult to play against, but we matched them for a long time. I was delighted with the performance.
"I've no complaints with the sending off. It was Gary's second booking. When Kane put the free-kick into the top corner, there was no way back."
H&WW: Johnston, Dickson (Pierce, 90 mins), Spence, McKeown, McMurray, McMillan (Middleton, 85 mins), Deans, Davidson, Harris, Boylan, Rainey. Unused subs: Bowers, Nelson.
Ballymena: Glendinning, Kane, Owens, Jenkins, McCloskey (Lowry, 67 mins), Faulkner, Friel, Ervin, McKinney (Braniff, 42 mins), Loughran. Unused subs: Flynn, Allen, McCracken.
Referee: Raymond Crangle (Belfast)
Man of the match: Tony Kane
Match rating: 6/10
Sixth round results: Armagh City 0 Glenavon 2; Coleraine 1 Tobermore United 0; Crusaders 2 PSNI 0; Dungannon Swifts 4 Dollingstown 1; H&W Welders 1 Ballymena United 3 (aet); Institute 0 Linfield 2; Loughgall 1 Portadown 2; Warrenpoint Town 5 Crewe United 0. Quarter-final draw March 4: Ballymena United v Coleraine, Crusaders v Linfield, Dungannon Swifts v Warrenpoint Town, Portadown v Glenavon.