David Jeffrey: Ballymena deserved to beat Linfield in the Country Antrim Shield
It can sometimes take an agonising period, but in football you get what you deserve.
Just ask Glenn Ferguson, Jim Ervin and John Taggart following Ballymena United’s success in the County Antrim Shield last week.
Glenn has now taken the Sky Blues to four domestic finals in the last four years and has won two of them. A remarkable job.
Jim, having shown incredible resilience following two cruciate ligament injuries, was the best player on the pitch against Linfield last Tuesday night, showed true class and leadership as the Ballymena captain, and thoroughly deserved to lift the Shield.
John, as Chairman of Ballymena, kept faith in Glenn, along with his Warden Street board, when a certain section of fans doubted him and he has now been rewarded with silverware.
You see, you reap what you sow in football.
Ballymena weren’t the best team on the pitch last Tuesday, but they did deserve to win a game which was full of excitement, skill, passion and determination — played in appalling conditions on a bitterly cold night in south Belfast.
They took their chances — Linfield didn’t — and that’s what wins games. I understand Linfield’s frustration at having struck the woodwork three times and also with having an effort cleared off the line. The Blues most certainly didn’t have good fortune but in this game, you make your own luck. David Cushley’s shot took a wicked deflection for their second goal, so some will say it was fortuitous. I disagree, he only had one thing in mind and therefore deserved to find the back of the net due to his intent.
I know both managers weren’t happy with the referee, but the man in the middle didn’t really have that much of an effect on the game. Credit to the Co Antrim Association for putting on such an excellent showpiece. It was a pulsating encounter and when Linfield got it back to 3-2, I really could see only one winner and that was the Blues. They had all the momentum. They played good attacking football but Ballymena were resolute.
Ervin, in particular, put in an immense performance. He is renowned as a right full back, but playing at centre half, due to a suspension, you would have thought he had been playing there all his career. His vision, movement, tough tackling and reading of the game was outstanding. I know there has been much praise for Paddy McNally but, for me, Jim was Ballymena’s star man.
And he deserves to be their captain. Allan Jenkins had been Ballymena skipper but I think Glenn wanted someone who would always be at training and I know from his time at Linfield, he is such an influential player. He does the small, unnoticed things so well. Just look at the wonderful gesture when he invited Allan to come up and hoist aloft the Shield. True respect there.
Cushley may be on his way to Crusaders in the summer but he showed that he didn’t want to leave Ballymena without another winner’s medal. I was very impressed. He fought hard all night for the team — a threat going forward and tackling back. If he plays like that on a consistent basis for the Crues, he will be a major player for them.
Of course, Ballymena’s triumph in the Shield decider came just three days after Linfield had beaten them in the Irish Cup.
I honestly believe if Ballymena had won the Irish Cup match then they wouldn’t have been successful on Tuesday.
They were fired up, had something to prove and it gave them the extra incentive they needed.
Linfield manager David Healy must now use the experience of a Final defeat to inspire his team to greatness. I remember as Blues boss, whenever we lost a Final, I would insist the players and I applauded the winners as they collected their medals and lifted the Cup. But I also went round every single player and told them to soak up their feelings of hurt, look at the smiles on the faces of the opposition and next time, make sure they don’t go through that painful experience again. It certainly seemed to work. Glenn Ferguson, Jim Ervin and John Taggart, in recent years, have all endured those times.
In football you get what you deserve.