Belfast Telegraph

Milk Cup: Jack Ferguson shines as Antrim make history

Club America 1-1 Co Antrim

By Keith Bailie

Antrim became the first ever county side to win the Dale Farm Milk Cup thanks to a sensational penalty shoot-out victory in last night's Premier final.

Goalkeeper Jack Ferguson was the hero of the day, saving three spot kicks in a tense shoot-out that saw the county team win 3-2 after an entertaining 1-1 draw with Mexcian side Club America at the Ballymena Showgrounds under the watchful eye of Northern Ireland senior manager Michael O'Neill.

Northern Ireland Under-17s keeper Ferguson was ecstatic.

"It means a lot to me and all the boys because Antrim have never won it before," Ferguson said.

"I thought we were the better team during the game but we let in a late goal, so we just had to do it in the shoot-out.

"We really took it to them during the game and we did everything we could to win the match in normal time but it went to penalties.

"From my perspective I didn't have a lot to do during the game so I had to keep on my toes.

"Then when it came to the penalty shoot-out it was very nerve-racking, but thankfully we did it.

"People are saying I saved two penalties but I think I got a touch on the last one."

With Antrim 1-0 up thanks to a 27-second goal from Ryan Nimick, Ballymena United star Matthew Shevlin hit the underside of the crossbar with a free-kick that may have crossed the line.

Two minutes later, Club America were level through Ricardo.

Sub Shevlin was just relieved that Antrim won in the end.

"It was disappointing not to start the game because I scored a few goals during the week but the main thing is we won the tournament," he said.

"I thought I'd scored with the free-kick that came off the crossbar, but the ref didn't give it," he added.

"The coaches just kept telling us to believe in ourselves, reminding us we were good enough to win the tournament. The Mexicans were very technically gifted, but we kept working hard and we got our reward."

For Andy Hunter's lads, this isn't something that's happened overnight. Their Junior side lost to Everton in the 2013 final, and Brazil side Corinthians in the 2014 final.

For Thomas Roscoe, Liam McKenna, Jack McCourt and Cormac Lawlor this success must have seemed long overdue, as they played in the 2014 final.

Co Antrim had the lead after just 27 seconds. Hunter's boys attacked from the first whistle, throwing a ball into the box that the Mexicans just couldn't handle.

Brandon Doyle aimed a firm header at goal which Club America goalkeeper Rafael tipped onto the bar, only for Nimick to turn the ball into the back of the net after a goal-line scramble. It was the perfect start for the county boys.

Crusaders youngster Nimick had a chance to score his second goal just two minutes later. The teen found himself in a yard of space just inside the penalty box, but his low drive hit the foot of the post.

Club America could have been reduced to 10 men in the 24th minute when Jerey appeared to kick Eamon Fyfe off the ball, but referee Jamie Robinson seemed to miss the incident.

The game's most controversial moment arrived with 16 minutes left on the clock.

Ballymena wonderkid Shevlin was fouled just outside the area. The confident young forward made sure it was he who took the free-kick and his 20-yard effort cannoned off the underside of the bar and bounced on the line.

Within two minutes, it was 1-1. Club America took a smart low corner that caught Antrim cold. The switched-on Ricardo latched onto the ball and drilled it into the bottom corner.

Juan and Liam McKenna both found the net in the first round of kicks, before Jerey and Shevlin exchanged misses. Jerey's was well-saved by the magnificent Ferguson, while Shevlin went straight down the middle, allowing Rafael to save.

Ferguson made another world-class low save from Ricardo, before Cliftonville's Cormac Lawlor gave Antrim a 2-1 lead.

Johan levelled scores before Joe Tully made it 3-2 to Antrim with a cool spot-kick.

Club America star Jared needed to score to keep the Mexicans in the game, but he hit the foot of the post.

Ferguson claims he got a touch on the ball before it hit the woodwork, and who are we to doubt him?

Northern Ireland boss O'Neill hailed Antrim's young heroes.

O'Neill said: "It is a brilliant achievement for the County Antrim boys.

"They played against a very good team, as they showed particularly in the second-half.

"To do that in their fifth game in five days and show that sort of discipline was terrific.

"They showed great strength and courage and for a lot of these players, this was their first real taste of a game on this scale.

"Hopefully they can kick on from here and there is no reason why they shouldn't do that.

"They are all locally based with Irish League clubs and I'd love to see the pathway into full-time football now," he said.

Club America: Rafael, Johan, Alejandro, Juan, Daniel Alejandro, Ricardo, Armando, Aluair, Jared, Ulises, Jerey. Subs: Javier, Enrique, Antonio, Cabriel, Andres, Enrique, Ruben.

County Antrim: Ferguson, Lawlor, Fyfe, McAuley, McCracken, Henry, Doyle, McCourt, McKenna, McCreery, Nimick. Subs: Corry, McAllister, Roscoe, Patterson, Shevlin, Tully, Moore.

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