Belfast Telegraph

I'm so glad I didn't allow injury woe to end my career, says Connolly

Kept out: Ballinamallard United keeper John Connolly denies Lee Duffy of Warrenpoint Town on Saturday
Kept out: Ballinamallard United keeper John Connolly denies Lee Duffy of Warrenpoint Town on Saturday

By Steven Beacom

Veteran Ballinamallard United goalkeeper John Connolly just keeps on going - and there is plenty of life left in the old duck yet.

At 42 he is now savouring the prospect of an Irish Cup final against Crusaders at Windsor Park next month.

And if it goes to penalties, don't bet against him emerging as the hero once more.

He was the shoot-out king in the quarter-final versus Dungannon Swifts and crucially saved Matthew Lynch's spot-kick on Saturday at Mourneview Park as Ballinamallard defeated Warrenpoint Town 5-4 on penalties.

Connolly has played over 600 times in an eventful career, taking him to Newry, Derry City, Finn Harps, Larne, Glenavon, Cliftonville, Portadown and Harry McConkey's mighty Ducks, but the May 4 match with the Crues might just be the most memorable of them all.

"We were underdogs in the last-16 of the competition against Carrick, then Dungannon and Warrenpoint, so to get to the final is an incredible achievement," said the goalkeeper, who dedicated the semi-final success to his late father.

"We know the final will be a step up but Harry will have us well prepared and you never know what can happen.

"Harry has done such a fantastic job. We won our first league game of the season and then went on a long losing run, so to reach the top six of the Championship and an Irish Cup final is some going."

Connolly has been key to that and all this after he recovered from a serious injury which could have finished his playing days.

"I spent most of last season out injured with a ruptured achilles and it was a tough battle to get back from that," said Connolly, who moved to the Fermanagh club from Portadown last summer.

"I'm glad that I returned. To be part of this cup run has been very special."

On penalties, he added: "I do study penalty takers but the two Warrenpoint players I studied most were off the pitch for the shoot-out.

"I could even have saved a couple more of them on Saturday because I got a hand to them but thankfully one was enough."

It's also worth noting that Connolly used all his experience in normal time to keep out the onrushing Lee Duffy.

Boss McConkey said: "That was such an important save for us.

"The longer the game went on, the more it seemed just one goal would settle it, and John did brilliantly then to keep it level before pulling off another vital save in the shoot-out.

"He has been brilliant for us with his experience and character and I'm delighted for him, as well as the rest of the lads, to have the final to look forward to."

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