Irish Cup final: Glens edge Sky Blues to win Windsor decider

Glentoran beat Ballymena United 2-1 after extra-time with a late Robbie McDaid winner to lift the Irish Cup at Windsor Park.

McDaid struck in the 115th minute from a Ciaran O’Connor cross to secure victory for the Glens.

It was the first match in the UK since March to be attended by fans, with 500 supporters watching on.

Paul O’Neill gave the east Belfast side a half-time lead that was equalised after the break by Cathair Friel.

It is a 23rd Irish Cup success for the east Belfast outfit who had beaten Cliftionville on penalties in the semi-final on Monday.

It looked like the final was heading for a shoot-out as well until Ciaran O’Connor made a good run down the left and delivered a cross which McDaid met perfectly with his left foot to guide into the bottom corner.

It was cruel on the Sky Blues who will feel they edged the game, particularly in the first half when they were on top either side of O’Neill’s opener.

This will be a special moment for captain Marcus Kane, who lives Glentoran both on and off the pitch.

The Irish League came together to support Marcus, his wife Aimee and daughter Mollie after baby Harrie passed away in December, so this is an extremely emotional and proud moment for the Kane family.

While Glentoran’s last two Irish Cup final wins – in 2013 and 2015 – felt very much like sporadic glimpses of the past from a big club in serious financial decline, this victory feels much more like a launch pad for future success.

The investment last summer by businessman Ali Pour injected a new life and dynamism into the east Belfast club, as well as a lot of money, and manager Mick McDermott has been building a squad with significant strength across all positions.

He insisted before the final that an Irish Cup win would be ahead of schedule for their plan, but they were also genuine contenders for the league title in January before their challenge fell off as spring was arriving.

Friday’s final performance was far from a vintage one, with O’Neill’s outstanding strike and McDaid’s predatory instincts their standout pieces of quality, but they fought hard to withstand Ballymena’s pressure to claim a late win.

McDermott said from his arrival last March that the club could not rely on Pour’s financial muscle forever and would instead need to generate their own finances, and taking their place in next season’s Europa League will go a long way to helping with that.

With both of Monday’s semi-finals at Windsor being played behind closed doors, each club had 250 supporters in the stadium on Friday night, with each set behind the goals doing their best to generate an atmosphere for a showpiece played in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.

There was a sing-off just before kick-off with plenty of vocal backing throughout the match, but it was always going to feel very different without the usual size of crowd in attendance, and there were periods of the game when the lack of crowd noise could be felt.

O’Neill’s opener came in the 21st minute when the attacking midfielder latched on to a headed clearance from Ballymena skipper Jim Ervin.

The 20-year-old manoeuvred the ball on to his left foot and, from 20 yards out, placed an exquisite low drive that had too much power for goalkeeper Ross Glendinning and curled into the bottom corner for his 11th goal of the campaign.

Friel equalised three minutes into the second half when he fired home a bullet header at the near post from a well-delivered Steven McCullough corner.

Veteran Glens goalkeeper Elliott Morris went down claiming he was fouled by Adam Lecky as the corner was being taken, but referee Tim Marshall played on after what looked like nothing but a coming together.

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Source: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/53596794

Irish Cup, Ballymena United F.C., Glentoran F.C.

World news – GB – Irish Cup final: Glens edge Sky Blues to win Windsor decider

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