It’s nearly upon us – the final piece of silverware is up for grabs on Saturday as Ballymena United and Crusaders go head-to-head at Windsor Park for the Samuel Gelston’s Whisky Irish Cup title.
Here’s all you need to know ahead of the game...
The game is on Saturday May 7 and kicks off at 2:30pm.
At the National Stadium at Windsor Park, the home of Linfield and the Northern Ireland football team.
Crusaders kicked off with the first game of the entire tournament, a comfortable 4-0 win over Glenavon at Mourneview Park – which saw home boss Gary Hamilton incensed by some of the refereeing decisions – thanks to goals from Jordan Forsythe, Paul Heatley (2) and Ben Kennedy.
A Philip Lowry goal settled their second round tie away to Ballinamallard United 1-0, before a late double from super-sub Jordan Owens downed Dungannon Swifts 4-2 in the quarter-finals at Seaview, with Josh Robinson and Kennedy also on the scoresheet.
They saved their best result for the semi-finals, though, crushing Cliftonville’s then-treble dreams with a 2-1 win at Solitude courtesy of an own goal from Luke McNicholas and then Billy Joe Burns’ winner in first-half stoppage-time.
Everything was comfortable for David Jeffrey’s men as they got the luck of the draw with Loughgall and Portstewart in the first two rounds, both at home, and comfortably disposed of both lower tier opponents.
Christopher Rodgers and Andy McGrory were on target in a 2-0 win over Loughgall in round one, with Ryan Waide, Paul McElroy and Mikey Place getting the job done in a 3-0 victory over Portstewart in a delayed round two match due to the state of the pitch at the Showgrounds.
One of the ties of the entire tournament awaited them in the quarter-finals, Ballymena and Larne playing out a thrilling 3-3 draw – McElroy, David Parkhouse and Place getting the hosts’ goals at the Showgrounds – and it would be the Braidmen who would triumph 4-3 on penalties.
That set up a last-four tie against Newry City, although they would have to wait over a month-and-a-half to play that game due to Glentoran’s lengthy appeal against their expulsion from the tournament having played the ineligible Joe Crowe in their 1-0 quarter-final win.
Once the game did go ahead, at Mourneview Park on April 26, it was a stunning Steven McCullough free-kick that settled a 1-0 scoreline, sending Ballymena into the decider.
It’s been pretty even throughout the campaign, although Crusaders have the edge in the league matches. Stephen Baxter’s men claimed a 1-0 win at the Showgrounds on October 9 and then won the most recent meeting between the two teams, a 2-1 success at Seaview on March 15.
Ballymena did pick up one win, however, a 2-0 victory at the Showgrounds on November 27.
Perhaps crucially, though, it was Ballymena who won the only previous Cup meeting between these two sides, a 3-2 League Cup third round victory in extra time at Seaview on October 13. How much will that weigh in the mind?
You would have to say Crusaders, who finished fourth in the league table compared to Ballymena's eighth, and had been on a superb run of eight wins in their last 10 games just after the split.
While they have focused primarily on this game, which has seen them fail to pick up a win in their last three outings, that dip in form will worry Stephen Baxter slightly, but he will be confident they can pick it back up when it matters.
Still, Ballymena are no slouches even though they finished in the bottom half of the table, and they do have that experience of beating the Crues in a knockout game already this season.
Almost in direct contrast to their opponents, David Jeffrey’s men come into this game riding the crest of a wave having won their last three games in a row and will hope to sneak in the back door to European football if they win.
Yes. The winners of the Irish Cup are entered into the Europa Conference League qualifying rounds, which both these clubs will desperately want to be involved in, not just for the prestige but the financial reward that comes with it.
This is Ballymena’s last chance saloon as, if they lose, their season is over as they did not qualify for the play-offs. If Crusaders lose, however, they will have one more shot at getting into Europe as they will drop into the play-offs having finished in fourth place in the league.
Tickets can be purchased via Ticketmaster, with adult tickets costing £15, concessions £10 and any child attending with a paying adult will only cost £2.
The game will be shown live on BBC 2 Northern Ireland from 2.15pm or, if you can’t make it to a TV, broadcast live on BBC Radio Ulster Sportsound.
We will also have a live blog of the game on the Belfast Telegraph website.