Belfast Telegraph

Euro jackpot for Ballymena after Europa League play-off win over Glenavon

Ballymena United 2-1 Glenavon

By Graham Luney

Ballymena United have hit the Euro jackpot and left Glenavon reflecting on a costly missed opportunity.

The Sky Blues will compete on the continent this summer after triumphing 2-1 at the Showgrounds, a victory that nets a Europa League qualifying spot and, more importantly, £200,000 to invest in the club.

David Jeffrey's side, who conquered Dungannon Swifts 5-2 in Tuesday's semi-final, rose to the big occasion in the Europa League play-off final.

Glenavon had swept aside Cliftonville 5-3 in the semi-finals but couldn't get the better of the Braidmen in a scrappy and nervous affair.

The first half was scoreless with both sides afraid of making mistakes but the Sky Blues played with more purpose after the break and Cathair Friel's 22nd goal of the season on 53 minutes rocked the visitors.

Rhys Marshall hammered in the equaliser in the 67th minute to lift anxiety levels, however it was former Lurgan Blues favourite Kevin Braniff who came off the bench to find the net with a deflected shot on 80 minutes.

Braniff moved from United to Glenavon in January in an 18-month deal and the man who once helped the Mourneview Park men taste Irish Cup glory returned to haunt them with a priceless strike for his new employers.

The play-off success is the icing on the cake for former Linfield boss David Jeffrey who, in his first full season at the Showgrounds, guided the club to League Cup glory, a top four league finish and Europa League football.

And now his United side can look forward to a first taste of major European action since the 1989-90 season.

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