The Larne revolution continues. Transformation of Inver Park? Check. Promotion from the Championship? Check. Signing players to become a force in the Irish Premiership? Check. First trophy as a top-flight club under the new regime? Check, check, check.
Larne, with the ownership of Kenny Bruce and management of Tiernan Lynch, are on a roll.
It was 33 years ago that Larne won the Ulster Cup. Before this season, that was the last time they lifted silverware as a top-tier outfit in Irish League football.
After savouring County Antrim Shield glory on penalties tonight following a drab scoreless draw, don’t expect to be waiting over three decades for the next time they are making space in the trophy cabinet.
The final with Glentoran won’t live long in the memory but for Larne supporters the shoot-out will.
Robbie McDaid, Gael Bigirimana and Chris Gallagher netted their spot-kicks for the Glens with Jay Donnelly and Joe Crowe seeing their weak efforts saved by Conor Devlin.
Rory Brown stopped Davy McDaid’s penalty but could not prevent Marty Donnelly, Josh Robinson and Fuad Sule from doing the business, setting up club captain Jeff Hughes for the decisive strike. The classy midfielder took his chance with aplomb to land the ToalsBet.com sponsored trophy.
There were no fans inside the ground due to Covid-19 restrictions but how the Larne board, management staff and the players savoured the moment.
To think it wasn’t too long ago that there were genuine fears for the future of the club but that all changed when businessman Bruce took over his hometown team.
It was in this newspaper, in August 2017, that the co-founder of Purplebricks first spoke about his stunning plans for Larne and his vision becomes more real by the day.
On and off the pitch Bruce has poured millions into Larne, modernising the stadium and providing the finance for Lynch to build a quality squad.
Right now they are top of the Irish Premiership and look like Linfield’s chief challengers for the crown. Throw in the confidence that the Shield success will bring and Larne have much to look forward to in the weeks and months ahead.
Before the final most of the build-up was dominated by Glentoran manager Mick McDermott’s fierce criticism of County Antrim FA officials for playing the game on a Wednesday rather than the normal Tuesday and for staging it at Seaview, which has an artificial surface just like Larne’s home ground.
If what went before was explosive, the match itself between the Irish League’s two ‘new money’ clubs was tame, tepid and duller than dishwater. Let’s hope Larne’s new fans, those stylish footballers Jack Grealish and Matt Le Tissier, weren’t watching on the live streaming service.
McDermott made EIGHT changes to the side that beat Dungannon at the weekend with only Brown, Marcus Kane and Gallagher keeping their places as in-form sharpshooters McDaid, Paul O’Neill and Jay Donnelly were left on the bench. McDermott making a point? What do you think?
Mind you, he would have been content with how defenders Keith Cowan and Crowe dealt with the Larne attack in a desperate first half.
The second period was slightly better. It couldn’t have been any worse. Glentoran goalkeeper Brown was forced into several saves in quick succession though he didn’t look convincing keeping out Marty Donnelly, Hughes and Sule while at the other end Glens substitute Jay Donnelly tested Devlin at his near post.
With the Oval outfit finishing stronger they almost broke the deadlock with 10 minutes left when Bigirimana’s corner hit Larne’s Hughes before cannoning against the bar and going over with the Glens claiming for handball in the area.
In the penalties, it was fitting that Hughes was the man to score the clincher.
He’s the boy from Larne who started his career at Inver Park before having a super career across the water. Then he returned home. The Shield could be the first of many trophies he lifts.
Larne have won their first top level trophy in 33 years as hometown man Jeff Hughes stroked home the decisive penalty at the end of a tense County Antrim Shield final against Glentoran.