Ballymena United boss David Jeffrey revealed that he always had belief in his team to reach the Sadler's Peaky Blinder Irish Cup final even when all seemed lost against Coleraine at Windsor Park.
In the first competitive senior game of football in Northern Ireland since March, Ballymena won 3-1 in a penalty shoot-out following a 1-1 draw after extra time against derby rivals Coleraine.
The Bannsiders were on course for Friday's decider when Eoin Bradley's sublime free-kick gave them the lead just before the break but substitute Kenny Kane levelled in the 94th minute and then successful spot-kicks from Andy McGrory, James Knowles and Steven McCullough saw Ballymena pull off a shock victory.
"Even in injury time I had belief in my players that we could win the match," stated Jeffrey.
"I have to pay tribute to my team who showed immense courage and character and I am delighted for them that they are in the final.
"I know we will be underdogs in the final, just as we were in the semi-final when nobody expected us to beat Coleraine, but Ballymena United are there and we will give it our best."
Jeffrey explained that some penalty practice in friendly matches came in extremely handy in the last four success over Coleraine.
"We had a couple of practice matches, thank you very much indeed to Harryville Homers and Crumlin United, and as part of those games we included penalty practice, so we left nothing to chance," said the former Linfield boss.
He added: "It was a tight game, probably a difficult watch, but two teams who had a short time to prepare and went out and gave it their all. For my players, to keep going and do what they did, I’m so pleased.
"I’ll put it on record that I wanted it to go straight to penalties rather than extra-time, simply for the health and wellbeing of the players – and also the recovery time of whoever gets to the final; but it is what it is.
"Let’s be brutally honest, no one outside of Ballymena United thought we would be in the final, and I understand that. Now we will try to make sure we get recovered as quickly as we possibly can – and we will go again."
Jeffrey pointed out that he thought it was "fitting" that McCullough netted United's final penalty. McCullough had been suspended for the semi-final before the Irish FA decision was overturned.
Coleraine boss Oran Kearney said: "I thought we had done an A1, professional job right up until the 94th minute or whatever it was.
"It's different if there's an onslaught for 15 or 20 minutes, but I think that was their first shot on target.
"I thought the way the boys had adapted and we had got our goal it was everything that we wanted it to be.
"Also we were seeing it out in the correct manner. Everything was going to plan then before you know it the ball is in the back of the net.
"It's hard to take from a player's point of view and a staff point of view. I have to pay big credit to the players, because you talk about momentum swings and everything else in football, Ballymena are cock-a-hoop and our boys are down in the dumps.
"When it goes to penalties it is what it is. We put three of our renowned and best penalty takers first.
"I'll never shout, and I said that to the players afterwards, I will never fall out with anyone for having the courage to step up and take a penalty and I've congratulated David (Jeffrey) and wished him all the best for Friday."
Coleraine's defeat means Crusaders, who finished third in the truncated league campaign, will not be in Europe next season.