Belfast Telegraph

Red-hot Antrim on track to become history boys

Hunter's side on verge of being the first county to taste Milk Cup glory

By Keith Bailie

Ballymena United wonder-kid Matthew Shevlin fired County Antrim into the final of the Dale Farm Milk Cup.

His brace gave Andy Hunter's boys a 2-0 win over La Liga giants Real Sociedad at the Riada Stadium in Ballymoney.

Sixteen-year-old Shevlin is no stranger to the limelight. Last season, aged just 15, he scored on his debut for the Sky Blues against Ballinamallard United in the Danske Bank Premiership.

Shevlin will return to the Ballymena Showgrounds tonight, as Antrim face Mexican side Club America in the Premier Section decider (8.00pm).

It's the third final for Antrim in as many years. The boys in yellow lost the 2013 Junior decider to Everton and the 2014 Junior final to Brazilian side Corinthians. If Antrim can make it third time lucky tonight, they will become the first ever County side to win the Milk Cup.

Former Linfield and Crusaders defender Hunter was understandably delighted.

"It's a fantastic achievement for the boys to get this far in the Milk Cup. We've enjoyed success in both competitions for a number of years which I think goes to show that the County Antrim set-up are doing something right," he said.

"Last year the Junior side reached the final and four of our boys this year were in that side, including Jack McCourt and Cormac Lawlor.

"But we didn't just pick lads because of their experience last year, we held open trials and gave everyone a clean slate and a fair chance, and I think that approach has worked well.

"We always tell the boys that they've got to believe in themselves. We've shown this week and over the last few years that we can compete with the professional clubs and that there is no need for us to have an inferiority complex.

"Reaching the final has been far from easy, though.

"I'd compare our last qualifying match against Japanese side Higashi to Carl Frampton's recent fight in Texas.

"We were perhaps guilty of going into it with a little too much confidence after our wins on Monday and Tuesday. We had looked at the Japanese side's record and they had lost their two opening games and failed to score a goal, so I think some of the boys underestimated them.

"They caught us cold in the first half and we had to fight back in the second. They gave us an early shock but we showed great character in fighting back to win the game. Thankfully we took that spirit into the semi-final."

In the other last-four tie at Scroggy Road in Limavady, CSKA Moscow and Club America drew 0-0 before the Mexican side won 5-3 on penalties. It's the second time in two years that CSKA have lost the semi-final on spot-kicks.

In the other minor competitions, Newcastle United beat American side Strikers 5-1 in the Globe semi-final at Broughshane. In the other semi, O'Higgins beat Malaga 3-0. Newcastle will play the Chilean side at the Coleraine Showgrounds in the Globe decider, with kick-off set for 1.30pm.

On Wednesday, County Armagh's Junior side drew 0-0 with Ghana team Right to Dream. Now their Premier side must do battle with the Africans in the final of the Vase.

Armagh qualified by beating Motherwell on penalties after a 0-0 draw. Right to Dream saw off Londonderry 2-0 in the other semi-final. The Vase decider will be played at Roe Mill at 1.30pm.

Unlucky Lusaka suffered more misfortune at Parker Avenue. They drew 0-0 with Otago in the semi-final of the Bowl, only to lose on penalties. In the other semi-final, Orange County Blues beat County Down 1-0.

In the Salver League, Partick Thistle beat Japanese side Higashi 5-1 at Clough, while last year's Milk Cup finalists Vendee finally got their first win of the tournament. They overcame Colombia side Alset 6-1 at the Joey Dunlop centre. In an all-county derby, Fermanagh beat Tyrone 2-1 at Roe Mill.

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