Clarke 'in dreamland' as Mallards face Crues in May showpiece
Ballinamallard Utd 0 Warrenpoint Town 0 Ballinamallard won 5-4 on pens
Ballinamallard United skipper Richard Clarke says playing his old club Crusaders in the Irish Cup final is the stuff of fairytales.
Emotions were running high for the midfielder on Saturday after the Championship side pulled off a shock to defeat Warrenpoint Town 5-4 on penalties at Mourneview Park.
But as Clarke celebrated, his thoughts were his with his late mum, and his uncle who had passed away a few days before. Clarke's family should be proud of his efforts. He was outstanding. Alongside the equally impressive Chris Kelly in the middle of the park he took control early, not letting Warrenpoint find their groove.
That gave Ballinamallard confidence and hope early on and even when Warrenpoint threatened to take a grip Clarke kept pushing the Fermanagh men forward with his intelligent passing. After 90 minutes and extra time couldn't separate the sides Clarke was the first Ballinamallard player to score in the shoot-out. Ryan O'Reilly, Matthew Smyth and Duwayne McManus followed suit.
For Warrenpoint Lee Duffy, the excellent Danny Wallace, Ciaran O'Connor and Josh Lynch also hit the net.
The key moment came when 42-year-old Mallards goalkeeper John Connolly kept out a strike from Town youngster Matthew Lynch.
That gave Ryan Campbell the chance to win the day and send Ballinamallard into their first Irish Cup final.
The scenes at the finish were something to behold as the players hugged each other and inspirational boss Harry McConkey in front of their joyous supporters.
Clarke was taking it all in. A title winner with Crusaders and an Irish Cup winner with Glentoran, he thought days like this had passed him by.
"At my stage you think these days are gone but we have to give Harry a lot of credit. His preparation is fantastic and the belief he gives us is just incredible," said Clarke.
"I'm so happy that we are playing Crusaders in the final. That is a fairytale for me. To go back and play against all the boys that I know will be fantastic.
On feeling emotional during the celebrations, Clarke said: "I was emotional. Unfortunately my uncle died this week, David Clarke, the father of Matthew who plays for Linfield. Also my mum passed away when I was 18 and I knew she was with me in the quarter-final and in the semi-final.
While McConkey, Clarke, Connolly and the Ballinamallard boys savoured their success, it was heartbreak for Warrenpoint, who were so close to a first Irish Cup themselves.
Manager Stephen McDonnell was classy in defeat wishing the Mallards all the best for the final. "I'm proud of my players who have been excellent all season. All the penalty takers stood up and credit to them for that," said McDonnell.
WARRENPOINT: Thompson, Foster, Reilly, Kelly (Hughes, 22), M Lynch, Scannell (Moan, 86 , J Lynch, 120), O'Connor, Wallace, Donnelly (McCaffrey, 101), Macedo Marques, Duffy. Unused subs: Turker, McGrandles, Magowan.
BALLINAMALLARD: Connolly, Taheny, Smyth, Clarke, Arkinson, Campbell, McCartney (Henderson, 104), Kelly (McManus, 10), McIlwaine (Warrington, 98), O'Reilly, McEvoy (Cashel, 72). Unused subs: Edgar, McCann, Harney.
Referee: Andrew Davey (Bangor)
Man of the match: Richard Clarke (Ballinamallard)
Match rating: 6/10.