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Four-star Braniff is a Windsor wonder

Crusaders 3-4 Glenavon

By David Mason

Published 02/04/2016

Cup of joy: Kevin Braniff celebrates after completing his hat-trick in Glenavon's Irish Cup semi-final with Crusaders. He would go on to score a fourth in a 4-3 win
Cup of joy: Kevin Braniff celebrates after completing his hat-trick in Glenavon's Irish Cup semi-final with Crusaders. He would go on to score a fourth in a 4-3 win

Unstoppable Kevin Braniff last night blasted Glenavon into the final of the Tennent's Irish Cup.

The striker hit a sensational four goals to beat off the challenge from Crusaders, whose hopes of their first ever league and cup double success went down the tubes in a night of drama at Windsor Park.

Gary Hamilton's boys were behind on three occasions, but hit back each time before Braniff bagged his best of the bunch which ultimately won the tie.

He's the first player to score four goals in an Irish Cup semi final since 2012 when Linfield's Peter Thompson's hit four against Newry City.

Cruaders looked so good, forging ahead with strikes from Matthew Snoddy, who bagged a brace, and Paul Heatley, but they just had no answer to Braniff.

It was the Crues who asked the early questions. Snoddy took off on a clever run down the left and lofted over a brilliant cross that Gavin Whyte just failed to connect with at the back post.

Glenavon's Ciaran Martyn was first into referee Andrew Davey's notebook following a horrible late lunge at Andy Mitchell after only 90 seconds. The Crues midfielder lay prone on the ground and looked in some trouble, but was able to resume after a period of treatment.

The Crues almost grabbed an opener from the resulting free kick which was touched to Jordan Forsythe by Colin Coates, but Jonny Tuffey produced a sensational save the midfielder's 30 yard effort that was hurtling into the top corner.

After soaking up the early pressure, the Lurgan Blues should have been in front on 14 minutes. Andy Hall's cross found the unmarked Braniff at the back post, but he shamefully scuffed the ball wide.

That stung the Crues into action at the other end with Heatley threading a super little pass to Owens who could only blast his effort into the side netting, but they had better luck on 24 minutes with Snoddy's opener.

Whyte skinned Rhys Marshall down the right and his cross was knocked down by Owens for Snoddy to ram home.

Glenavon were level within three minutes. Marshall was the architect with a piercing run through the middle. He managed to thread a pass to Braniff, who curled in a sensational effort from the edge of the box.

The Glenavon fans were still dancing a jig when Snoddy struck again. He was allowed time and space to try his luck from 25 yards and the ball fizzed through the outstretched gloves of Tuffey.

As the clock ticked down to half-time, goal hero Snoddy popped up at to rescue the Crues, hoofing a Joel Cooper shot off the line with Sean O'Neill beaten. Glenavon did strike again on 43 minutes with Martyn somehow wriggling his way into the box before finding Braniff, who expertly lashed the ball under O'Neill.

The goals just kept on coming as the Crues were in front again within two minutes of the second half. Forsythe did the damage on the right and when his cross landed at the feet of Heatley he netted his 23rd goal of the season.

Yet again the Lurgan boys refused to throw in the towel as they again pulled level six minutes later.

Braniff rose high at the back post to connect with an Andy McGrory cross and his header bulleted past O'Neill.

Incredibly, Glenavon turned the tie on its head when they took the lead for the first time on 71 minutes with Braniff bagging his best of the night. Declan O'Brien tricked his way past Josh Robinson before crossing for the striker to volley home.

Belfast Telegraph

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