Cockcroft's festive treat as East Belfast claim cup
East Belfast 3-0 Sirocco Works
Former Crusaders and Ards star Stephen Cockcroft says he's found his footballing home after leading East Belfast to success in the final of the Steel and Sons Cup.
Cockcroft scored twice and assisted the other in a dominant 3-0 win over local rivals Sirocco Works at Seaview to hand the club their first Christmas Day success since 1992.
The 24-year-old struggled with injuries early in his career, meaning his stay in the Premiership was short, but he was at his scintillating best in yesterday's final, pulling the strings up front alongside another former Irish League name in ex-Glentoran forward Danny McKee.
And Cockcroft now believes that this is only the start of a profitable spell for a club that he is loving his time with.
"It took me a long time to find a home in football after being injured and not doing well at clubs, but here I feel like I'm home," admitted Cockcroft.
"We haven't won this since 1992, so hopefully this is the start of a very long road for us. We only started to compete a couple of years ago, so this is the start of the long road and this is just the first one on the table.
"I'm absolutely over the moon, I couldn't have dreamed of a better day. We've worked so hard behind the scenes and in training. We've put the work in and it was great to do this today with my family and friends all watching from the stands.
"We're over the moon to get the first trophy on the table and hopefully there's plenty more to come now."
On the link with ex-Glens hitman McKee, Cockcroft added: "He's one of my best friends, we talk every day about things and we do a lot of stuff in training together, so we've got a really good cohesion together."
That was evident from as early as the fifth minute, when East Belfast took the lead when the front pair linked up to great effect, McKee finding Cockcroft on the edge of the box and the striker cut inside and found the bottom corner.
McKee then had a chance of his own, forcing Sirocco keeper Neil Shields to palm over a sweetly struck shot on the turn, before Sirocco finally had their opening opportunity when Warren Pinkerton put a curling effort the wrong side of the post.
East Belfast's second came in cruel circumstances for Sirocco, who had a great chance to level when Carl McConville headed over Ross Orderly's corner from eight yards out, only for Shields to be fishing the ball out of his own net mere seconds later.
Almost straight from the goal kick it was the front two who combined for the goal once again, McKee sliding Cockcroft in behind with a lovely pass and again he made no mistake with the finish, even if the attempted save from Shields left a lot to be desired.
It could have been even better for East Belfast at the break when Cockcroft effortlessly lifted a cross-field pass into the box right onto the boot of Taylor Evans, only for the midfielder to hit the side netting.
A tame start to the second half was finally broken by East Belfast's third on the hour mark, which put the result beyond doubt, as Cockcroft did get the assist he deserved.
It was a left-wing free-kick that provided him with it, a wicked delivery from the East Belfast ace right onto the penalty spot, and McKee's looping header nestled beyond the reach of Shields in the Sirocco goal.
Perhaps the closing stages would have provided a bit more drama had Kurtis Hanna managed to pull one back for Sirocco when he was found unmarked in the box by an Orderly free-kick but, as it was, the header somehow didn't even test East Belfast goalkeeper Dean Haggan.
Instead, Shields remained the busier goalie in the closing stages, breaking up a two-on-one between McKee and Keith Armstrong, before producing the save of the match.
McKee was found in the box by a cross, leaving only Shields to beat, but the keeper spread himself wide to make the one-handed stop when the striker tried to prod the ball past him with virtually the last kick of the game.
But it was mere consolation for the Sirocco stopper who, like the rest of his team-mates, had to watch as Cockcroft and East Belfast celebrated a fully deserved Steel and Sons Cup triumph.
EAST BELFAST: Haggan, Rossborough, Roy, McCaughan, Finlay, McNaul, Evans (Wilson, 69 mins), Irwin (McBride, 86 mins), McKee, Armstrong, Cockroft (Kane, 74 mins).
Subs not used: Deane, Belshaw.
SIROCCO WORKS: Shields, Jones, Fleming, Ritchie (Stewart, 35 mins), Bowers, Spiers, Orderly (Stitt, 73 mins), Hanna, S Dornan, Pinkerton (M Dornan, 64 mins), McConville.
Subs not used: Reid, Graham.
Man of the Match: Stephen Cockroft
Match Rating: 6/10
Referee: Jimmy Johnstone