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Ronan Hale’s trademark screamer caps Larne’s historic night at Inver Park

Larne 1 Bala Town 0 (Larne win 2-0 on aggregate)

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Get in: Larne players celebrate Ronan Hale’s winner late on to finish off Bala Town

Get in: Larne players celebrate Ronan Hale’s winner late on to finish off Bala Town

Get in: Larne players celebrate Ronan Hale’s winner late on to finish off Bala Town

Larne’s European dream is alive and kicking after Ronan Hale came off the bench to ensure a safe passage in last night’s Europa Conference League tie at Inver Park.

Tiernan Lynch’s side went into the game with a slender 1-0 advantage and the tie with Welsh side Bala Town was on a knife edge until Hale’s 84th minute stunner.

The former Derry City frontman came off the bench to produce what has become his trademark in the Irish League – an eye-catching finish into the top corner.

It brought unbridled joy on an historic night – the club’s first European home game.

It was enough to clinch a 2-0 win overall, and set up a tie with AGF Aarhus, who finished third in last season’s Danish Superliga.

Larne were playing in the Championship just over three years ago and now are making waves in the continent.

Playing in European football for the first time in their 132-year history, their rapid progress continues.

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Larne struck early in the away leg – there were just 93 seconds on the clock when Davy McDaid scored at TNS’ Park Hall. A repeat never looked likely last night, however, in what was a cagey affair.

Bala came into the draw as one of the lowest ranked seeded teams, but earned their right to be there with seven appearances in Europe in the last nine seasons.

Colin Caton’s side also knew they weren’t there to make up the numbers having progressed through a round in Europe for the first time in their history in last year’s Europa League.

They saw off Valetta away from home to set up a one-legged affair with Standard Liege, who went on to play Rangers in the competition.

The fact that Bala lost only 2-0 in Belgium, was a reminder that they would be a tough nut to crack and so it proved.

The game at Inver Park was played in glorious sunshine, which only added to the occasion for the 800-strong crowd in attendance, but didn’t do anything for two sides still in the early stages of their pre-season programme.

The first opportunity came with eight minutes on the clock, with the home side having the first real sighter of goal.

A good interchange of play on the left flank between Dean Jarvis and Lee Lynch ended with the latter letting fly from 20 yards, but his effort was too close to Alex Ramsay who held it comfortably.

Three minutes later and the tie should have been level on aggregate. From a corner on right flank the ball was flicked on, into the path of Will Evans at the back post, but the midfielder headed over six yards out.

Larne began to get a grip of proceedings as the half wore on.

With just the one goal to separate both sides, the first half had the air of two sides who didn’t want to show their hand too early.

Larne’s attacking threat increased slightly as the half-time whistle of Croatian referee Dario Bel neared.

Once again the opportunity came from the Invermen’s left flank. Jarvis got on the end of a clever one-two with Lee Lynch and drove into the box before fizzing a low effort agonisingly across the face of goal.

Home boss Lynch introduced nippy winger Conor McKendry 10 minutes into the second half and it was the former Ipswich Town youngster who came within a whisker of breaking the deadlock on 65 minutes.

McDaid found McKendry on the left and he took a touch before unleashing a half volley which was blocked inside the six yard box.

Three minutes later and another substitute, Marty Donnelly, came even closer to the opener.

Barely a minute after coming on, Donnelly brought a high ball under his control with a lovely first touch, before jinking past a defender but his effort lacked the power to beat Ramsay in the visitors goal.

As they did last week, the part-timers from Bala began to tire in the closing stages of the game, with Larne sensing their opportunity to score the goal which would kill the tie.

With 20 minutes left on the clock, Donnelly was again in the thick of the action.

This time his opportunity came much further out, as he found a yard of space outside the box, but his dipping effort was a yard the wrong side of Ramsay’s crossbar.

Bala’s resistance was finally broken with six minutes remaining on the clock and what a strike it was.

Ronan Hale, only on the pitch as a substitute, collected the ball on the left side of the box, and curled a magnificent effort with his right foot which looped over Ramsay and into the top corner.

That settled any remaining nerves and ensured European football would return to Inver Park in a week’s time.

LARNE: Ferguson, Balmer (’77 Watson), Herron, Sule, Randall (’67 Donnelly), McDaid (’77 Hale), Lynch (’55 McKendry), Bolger, Cosgrove, Hughes, Jarvis

Unused subs: Argyrides, Kelly, Robinson, Scott, Mitchell, Lusty

Bala Town: Ramsay, Woods (’83 S Smith), Spittle, Mendes (’73 Leslie), Evans, K Smith (’83 Walker-Rice), Kay, Rutherford (’67 Bauress), Edwards, Venables, Shannon

Unused subs: Lloyd Peate, Stephens

Referee: Dario Bel (Croatia).


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