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Day in sun seemed far off for Ballymena United as Welders turned up the heat


Allan Jenkins after putting Ballymena on the way to victory over Linfield at Windsor Park in the Irish Cup

Allan Jenkins after putting Ballymena on the way to victory over Linfield at Windsor Park in the Irish Cup

Brian Little

Allan Jenkins after putting Ballymena on the way to victory over Linfield at Windsor Park in the Irish Cup

Ballymena United skipper Allan Jenkins can't wait to lead his side out tomorrow afternoon but his mind can't help wandering back to a dark afternoon in the depths of winter.

With four minutes to go at Tillysburn Park all thoughts of a trip to the Irish Cup Final in the merry month of May seemed a million miles away for the Scotsman as the Sky Blues trailed to Harland and Wolff Welders.

Enter debut boy Darren Boyce and an 86th minute equaliser and Jenkins and his side now hope that the rest is history.

The replay was dealt with – just – before truly memorable displays against Linfield at tomorrow's final venue and a rapid blitz of Dungannon Swifts.

There were to be no slip-ups in the semi-final banana skin in waiting that was Queen's University and now it's Glenavon and a chance for Jenkins and his men to end a quarter of a century of hurt by the Braid.

"It just shows you the fine line between success and failure in football," said the former Greenock Morton midfielder.

"We were 2-1 down and probably deservedly heading out of the cup and then Boycie popped up with an equaliser and we huffed and puffed our way past them in the replay.

"Then we went to Windsor Park and put on a great show to beat Linfield, steam-rollered Dungannon in the first 30 minutes and then it was a comfortable performance against Queen's in the semi.

"We'll need another type of Linfield performance to take care of Glenavon in the final."

Cup success eluded him in his native land although he was with Gretna when the minnows reached the Scottish Cup Final in 2006, losing out to Hearts.

"I was fortunate enough to be involved with a team that got to a Scottish Cup Final with Gretna but unfortunately we lost on penalties but it's a bit different this time," he added.

"I was cup-tied for that one but hopefully it'll turn out better this time.

"It's going to be an immensely proud day for myself and my family to lead a team in the cup final, especially given the history that we haven't been there for 25 years.

"It's probably the biggest game of my career, given what's at stake.

"I think winning leagues are different because it's done over the course of a season but this is one-off and I'm massively looking forward to it," added Jenkins.

Although not as much as two other members of the Jenkins clan, who will join a small band of fans travelling across the Irish Sea from his hometown of Stranraer.

"My daughter and niece will be mascots and that's why it's going to be such a proud day and important one for my family," he said

"My daughter, Macie, won't do anything without my niece, Kelsey – they're joined at the hip!

"I think they're more excited than I am but I think it'll start to dawn on me."

Despite being slightly longer in the tooth than two of his biggest fans, the thoughts of cup success still loom large in his sweet dreams.

"You play over all the scenarios in your head of 'what if this happens' and 'what if that happens' so I've had myself scoring the winning goal a few times in my head," he confessed. "It's incredible to think that it has been 25 years since Ballymena last reached a cup final, hopefully it'll not be another 25, but if we go and win then that will all be forgotten about.

"Performance goes out the window in a game like this, it's a one-off match and it's the result that counts, so that's what we'll strive for.

"Glenavon are a very good side; they pose a lot of threats. They're experienced, they score a lot of goals but they concede a lot too, so hopefully they'll concede more than they score on Saturday!"

And so say Macie and Kelsey.

Belfast Telegraph