Ferguson hails Cushley's late show
Larne 2-3 Ballymena United
David Cushley's last-gasp extra-time strike sent Glenn Ferguson's Ballymena United through to the County Antrim Shield final, crushing Larne's hopes not once, but twice in a dramatic finish.
If ever there was a man to put Ferguson's side through, it would be the effervescent Cushley, and even on an off night, he proved he could do the damage.
The United boss said: "There's games where some players would crumble. David Cushley has done nothing all night and we've kept him on because he's a match winner and he's proved that.
"He wins games, that's why he's sought after, we've been fortunate to have him for four or five years. He's a quality player.
"I said to the lads before the game it was going to be desperately hard, but now the most important thing is we've got a cup final to look forward to."
A drab first-half of limited chances gave way to a late, late show at Inver Park.
With the game almost cancelled due to heavy storms, it was apt that Paul McMullan's 78th-minute thunderbolt opened the scoring.
A quick free-kick was swiped at by John Donnelly at the edge of the box, but the ball ran on to the waiting McMullan who rifled into Alan Blayney's top left corner.
It looked to be the perfect goal to send Larne to the final, but in the 89th minute, Willie Faulkner popped up at the edge of the box to send a beautifully executed volley beyond Paddy Flood to take the game into extra-time.
To make matters worse for Larne boss David McAlinden, Ballymena took the lead with just a minute of overtime played. Cushley's shot was parried by Flood, who could only push the ball to Darren Henderson.
Flood then had to claw the ball off the line to prevent a third United goal as a header crashed off the underside of the bar.
However, Larne ace Conal McGrandless bundled the ball over the line in the 97th minute.
Chances came and went for both sides as they sought a winner, and with a cruel sense of deja vu, it was Ferguson's men who snatched the goal with just moments remaining for a second time.
A break should have been thwarted by Kevin Bradley, but his air swipe allowed Cushley to steal in and pick his spot to send United into the Shield final against Linfield or Carrick Rangers.
Larne: Flood, Bradley, Smith, McClean, Rodgers, McMullan, Gillan, McGrandless, Donnelly, Keke, McCabe. SUBS McManus, Todd, E.Gillan, McGonnall, Stitt
Ballymena United: Blayney, Ervine, Taylor, Rodgers, McBride, Faulkner, Thompson, Kane, Cushley, Jenkins, Tipton. SUBS Henderson, E.Kane, Ruddy, Ferguson, McVey
Man of the match: David Cushley had a quiet game by his standards but his perseverance paid off in the dying embers to send Ballymena through.
Match rating: 7/10
Referee: Ross Dunlop (Carrickfergus)