Belfast Telegraph

Veteran Connolly dreaming again after Ballinamallard's Irish Cup shoot-out drama

Dungannon Sw 2 Ballinamallard 2

Spot on: John Connolly accepts the plaudits after Ballinamallard’s penalty shoot-out victory
Spot on: John Connolly accepts the plaudits after Ballinamallard’s penalty shoot-out victory
Adrian Rutherford

By Adrian Rutherford

At 41, John Connolly must have thought his dreams of Irish Cup glory were gone.

But now the veteran goalkeeper stands just 90 minutes from the final - a decade after his last appearance in football's showpiece game ended in heartache.

Connolly was one of many heroes on Saturday as Ballinamallard United pulled off one of the biggest shocks of this season's competition.

The Championship side beat Dungannon Swifts in a penalty shoot-out to set up a semi-final date with Warrenpoint Town.

Connolly was a beaten finalist with Cliftonville in the 2009 final, losing 1-0 to Crusaders, and would love another crack at lifting the trophy.

"I've played in a final before, back in 2009, and I'd love to get there again," he said. "To be in the last four is fantastic.

"I only found out during the week that we had made the quarter-finals just once before. To go beyond that and now get to the semi-finals for the first time is brilliant.

"It is great to be able to get the club to this stage, but now let's see if we can go a step further."

Dungannon were big favourites to win this quarter-final and led at the break through Seanan Clucas' strike.

But the Mallards hit back early in the second half when Jason McCartney swept home a cross from Josh McIlwaine.

The tie went to extra-time, where sub Ally Teggart put the Swifts back in the lead.

However, Ryan Campbell's late header made it 2-2 and took it to penalties.

The Mallards had exited the cup on spot kicks in each of the last three seasons - against Coleraine, Warrenpoint and, most recently, Ballymena United.

But they held their nerve here, winning 3-2 in the shootout.

Connolly, whose save from Paul McElroy's first penalty gave the Mallards the advantage, added: "Saving that first kick put a little bit of pressure on them and I knew that going into the shootout.

"If you can save that first one, it gives you that little bit of momentum and thankfully we got through.

"But I thought we showed great character all afternoon, especially after going 2-1 down in extra time to get it back to 2-2.

"Dungannon have been doing really well since Kris Lindsay took over, so it's a big win, especially at their place.

"Obviously we gave them the respect they deserve - they are a Premiership team - but we were still confident coming here."

Swifts boss Lindsay had few complaints with the result.

"People go through their careers without playing in an Irish Cup semi-final," he said.

"We had an opportunity to do that today and we couldn't take it.

"From minute one I thought we were sluggish, we made poor decisions at poor times all over the pitch, and it cost us."

AET, Ballinamallard win 3-2 on penalties

DUNGANNON: Moore, Lowe, Hegarty (Ferrin, 105 mins), Armstrong, O'Rourke, Clucas, Hutchinson (Lafferty, 109 mins), McElroy, Patton (Campbell, 64 mins), Carvill (Teggart, 86 mins), Hughes. Unused subs: Moran, Dykes, Wilson.

BALLINAMALLARD: Connolly, Taheny, Smyth, Kelly, O'Reilly, Clarke, Arkinson, McCartney (Cashel, 90 mins), McIlwaine, McEvoy (Warrington, 98 mins), Campbell. Unused subs: McManus, Edgar, McCann, Henderson, Robb.

Referee: Evan Boyce (Ballygowan)

Man of the match: Josh McIlwaine

Match rating: 8/10

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