Ballymena United 1-2 Glentoran AET
It's official now...Glentoran are back. They have the major trophy to prove it after winning the Irish Cup against Ballymena United at Windsor Park thanks to Robbie McDaid’s strike with just four minutes of extra-time left to play.
With his dad John playing for the Glens, McDaid grew up supporting the Oval outfit and here he was at Windsor Park scoring the decisive goal to win the club’s first trophy since 2015.
McDaid dreamed of this moment and it came his way courtesy of a brilliant run and cross from substitute Ciaran O’Connor when a penalty shoot-out was on the cards.
Earlier Northern Ireland Under-21 international Paul O’Neill had scored a cracker to give Glentoran a first-half lead before Cathair Friel equalised moments after the break.
It was hard on David Jeffrey’s men who could say they were the better side but as the Sky Blues boss knows better than most Cup finals are all about winners.
The Glentoran players were beside themselves with joy.
This was a victory for themselves, their families, the manager Mick McDermott, the fans and their captain – the wonderful Marcus Kane who had spoken so openly before the final about his emotions over the week and past eight months and his pride in raising £50,000 for Bereavement Care in the Royal Victoria Hospital after he and wife Aimee tragically lost their baby boy Harrie just before Christmas.
As Kane lifted the Cup Aimee and daughter Mollie watched on inside Windsor with pride.
So too did the skipper’s mum and dad, kindly given tickets for the match by two Glentoran volunteers to share in their son’s big night. Harrie was there too in everyone’s thoughts.
It was an emotional night.
For McDermott it was a glorious one. When he replaced Oval legend Gary Smyth as manager on March 31 last year he was in the eye of a storm with Glentoran fans angry about the exit of one of their favourite sons.
It tells you much about McDermott’s character that he had won over the supporters even before the Cup final success.
He was key to bringing millionaire investor Ali Pour, who attended the final, on board and when last summer’s takeover was completed finally after years of financial worry and fears that the club would go under, Glentoran had security and funds to spend on quality players.
They now have their first piece of silverware for five years and will want more and more with Linfield’s league title the next target.
From the fifth round Glentoran’s name has been on the Cup coming from behind twice in dramatic fashion to eventually beat Portadown on penalties. The triumph over Ballymena was the icing on the cake with the Cup on top.
Of course this was not your usual Irish Cup decider. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, rather than thousands, only 250 spectators from each side were allowed in the ground with Glentoran fans housed in the Kop stand and Ballymena followers behind the opposite goal.
There weren’t many but they were the first fans at a football match in the UK since March and they provided real noise rather than the canned cheers played from the public address system after goals in the semi-finals.
Ballymena made the brighter start but couldn’t make their dominance or set piece opportunities count, paying for that in the 22nd minute when O’Neill’s brilliant strike broke the deadlock.
The warning signs were there just before when the dangerous Navid Nasseri was brilliantly denied by United goalkeeper Ross Glendinning and then hit the rebound wide when he ought to have hit the net.
The groans of frustration from Glens fans in Kop were replaced with cheers of joy moments later when O’Neill was first to react to a headed clearance from United captain Jim Ervin and in space glided forward to strike a beauty with his left foot from outside the box into the net.
Ballymena could consider themselves to be unfortunate to be behind at the break but on 48 minutes they were level with Friel’s powerful near post header from a Steven McCullough corner doing the business. Just before the delivery Glens goalkeeper Elliott Morris fell on his line after a tangle with United striker Adam Lecky.
There was no whistle and with Morris back on his feet he could do nothing to prevent Friel’s first goal since January.
From there chances were few and far between with McDaid, so crucial for the Glens in this Cup run with his goals, having penalty claims waved away.
It didn’t look to be his night until O’Connor took the bull by the horns and went on a surging run into the box before delivering an inviting cross for McDaid to tuck away.
It was a classy finish and it won the Cup for the Glens.
Here's the game as it happened: