Goalkeeper Jonny Tuffey was the unlikely hero at the other end of the pitch in yesterday’s dramatic Irish Cup Final at Windsor Park.
With the game in the 93rd minute and Crusaders facing almost certain defeat, in a last-gasp attempt to salvage the situation, the former Glenavon and Linfield man joined the rest of his team-mates who were camped in the Ballymena United penalty box awaiting Paul Heatley’s corner.
When the ball came in, Tuffey got up above everyone else and, when his header fell to Josh Robinson, the defender poked home at the back post. The keeper then took off to celebrate — pointing to his head, just to let everyone know he got an assist.
It was an unbelievable turning point and proved the platform for the Crues to chalk up a famous victory.
“It was in my head to go up for the corner,” said the former Northern Ireland international shot-stopper. “I looked over to the bench and (goalkeeper coach) Davy McClelland told me to go.
“What a touch, it came right off my eyebrow. To be fair, I’d been battered about a bit by big Jordan Owens before I joined Crusaders, so I thought to myself, ‘Let’s give this a go to see what it’s like’.
“It’s the first time that I’ve made an impact in our opponents’ box. I’ve gone up for set-pieces before in last-ditch situations, but never got near the ball and had to hastily get back to my goal.
“I was just glad to get a touch and Josh got around the back and managed to squeeze it in. I just closed my eyes, I’m not going to lie.”
Tuffey admitted the Cup win erases the pain of last season when he was red-carded in the Semi-Final penalty shoot-out with Larne at Mourneview Park for moving off his goal line on two occasions.
“It goes a long way to snuffing out that memory,” he said. “You try and use every experience, both positive and negative, as a player to develop and get better.
“I was asked the same question after the Semi-Final win against Cliftonville.
“It only got us one step further than last year, so to go on and win the trophy certainly helps erase that memory and the hurt that came with it.”
Tuffey revealed it took a few words of wisdom at half-time by manager Stephen Baxter to spark the Crues’ revival.
Trailing to an early own goal from the out-of-sorts Robbie Weir, the Shore Road side had huffed and puffed without ever really looking likely to find the spark they desperately needed.
“We knew we actually had to go and really start the game,” explained Tuffey.
“We all knew as players, even before the gaffer spoke, we were not at it. The common theme was we can’t be any worse — we just didn’t play in the first half.
“We found a way to win and that was the most important thing.
“We know it didn’t matter how, we knew we had to win it.”