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Carrick have the final say thanks to McNicholl's Midas touch

By David Mason

Carrick Rangers boss Aaron Callaghan last night hailed his team following their shock League Cup semi-final win over Glenavon at Mourneview Park.

They may be battling relegation in the league, but they now have a big day to relish against Ballymena United on February 18 - the club's first ever League Cup final.

It was a late goal from Tiarnan McNicholl that settled a game that certainly failed to ignite until the latter stages.

"I thought the boys were absolutely magnificent," purred Callaghan.

"We had a game plan and the boys carried it out superbly well.

"To be honest, we were never under a great deal of pressure. It's great to be in a final and also create a little piece of history for the club.

"Very few teams come here and leave with any joy. Every one of the boys can hold their head high.

"It's been a difficult year for the team, but when I came in, I wanted to put the smiles back on faces at the club.

"We'll enjoy the win. But we can now put the final on the back burner.

"We have much more important things to concentrate on in terms of our league position.

"We have a big game against Cliftonville on Saturday, that is now our priority."

And, on McNicholl's winner, Callaghan added: "It was a tremendous finish. He had a desperate amount of work to do, but he finished it like a seasoned pro."

Carrick roared from the traps and could well have been in front after only 30 seconds. Martin Murray slipped a great pass to McNicholl, but his shot was deflected wide by the outstretched boot of Rhys Marshall.

The home team had to wait 33 minutes for their first sniff of goal, with Andy Hall trying his luck from distance but failing to trouble Brian Neeson.

Striker Eoin Bradley then burst into life seconds later, benefiting from a clever Kevin Braniff flick only to see Neeson produce a wonder save to paw away his wickedly hit 20-yard drive.

But Callaghan's battlers upped the tempo as the game progressed.

TJ Murray's vision created a chance for McNicholl, whose low drive was plucked at the base of the post by James Taylor before Daniel Kelly wasted the best chance of the half four minutes from the break.

The big makeshift striker was sent hurtling into the box by a delicious pass from McNicholl, but left with only Taylor to beat, he looped his shot inches past the post.

It was the Lurgan Blues who asked the early questions after the interval. Mark Sykes just failed to convert a low cross from Hall, before Joel Cooper screwed a shot wide after being set up by Bradley.

Then, in another sweeping attack, Bradley and Braniff combined to create a chance for Cooper, but his header was comfortably dealt with by Neeson.

The visitors responded in a positive manner and were right out of luck on 63 minutes when Paddy McNally met a Martin Murray corner, only to see his header hoofed off the line by Andy McGrory.

With the clock ticking down, James Singleton thought he had broken the deadlock after he met another Cooper corner-kick, but Neeson somehow got a glove to the effort to claw clear.

Chris Morrow was introduced with 13 minutes left, replacing TJ Murray, and he almost scored with his first touch.

The former Crusaders man picked up a cut back from Marty Murray only to see Taylor get down to save at the base of the post.

But it was the visiting fans who were celebrating on 80 minutes. McNicholl produced an audacious solo dash down the left that took him past challenge after challenge and he finished with a certain degree of panache, drilling the ball into the bottom corner.

It sparked scenes of great jubilation among the Carrick faithful at the finish - how they deserve it.

Glenavon: Taylor, Lindsay, Marshall, Cooper, Bradley (O'Brien 83), Hall, Sykes, Marron, McGrory (Martyn 83), Braniff (Moorhouse 83), Singleton.

Unused subs: Neill, Elebert.

Carrick Rangers: Neeson, Chapman, McCullough, Rice, Surgenor, McNally, Taggart, M Murray (Lavery 88), McNicholl (Hanley 90), TJ Murray (Morrow 77), Kelly.

Unused subs: Wilson, Foster.

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