Robbie McDaid strikes late to win Irish Cup for Glentoran
Irish Cup Final: Ballymena United 1-2 Glentoran (aet)
ROBBIE McDaid scored an Irish Cup final winner with just four minutes left in extra-time to deliver Glentoran's first trophy for five years and send Ballymena United home heartbroken.
With the game tied at 1-1 after Paul O'Neill and Cathair Friel swapped goals either side of half time, penalties looked certain until Glens substitute Ciaran O'Connor picked the ball up in the Ballymena half, surged forward and produced a perfect cross for McDaid to slot home.
There were 116 minutes on the clock and try as they might to come back, Ballymena's race was run.
In what was an Irish Cup final like no other at least some fans were allowed into the ground with both clubs given 250 tickets each for the game.
Those lucky enough to have the golden tickets must have felt like Charlie going to Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory.
Glentoran supporters were in the Kop stand, normally the home of Linfield followers, while Ballymena fans were occupied behind the opposite goal. Social distancing was to the fore with any families in their own bubbles.
And with that there was a different feel last night compared to the semi-finals when no supporters were present.
After the warm ups there were loud cheers from the respective fans towards their players and songs which was a whole lot better than the canned noise from the PA system on Monday when Ballymena beat Coleraine on penalties and Glentoran did the same to Cliftonville.
Glens boss Mick McDermott kept faith with the starting XI that played against the Reds while Sky Blues counterpart David Jeffrey brought Leroy Millar and Andy McGrory into his team with Ryan Harpur and Tony Kane dropping to the bench.
Before kick-off there was a moment's applause to pay tribute to the NHS for their efforts during the coronavirus pandemic and to acknowledge the battle against all forms of racial discrimination though none of the players took a knee, unlike the Reds v Glens semi.
Ballymena settled much quicker with Adam Lecky's aerial prowess winning free-kicks in dangerous areas but they couldn't make them count and when Joshua Kelly broke clear after a slick passing move he didn't have the conviction to drive on and shoot, looking for a pass that wasn't on.
Glentoran's problem was that McDaid and Navid Nasseri weren't seeing enough of the ball. That changed on 21 minutes when Nasseri drifted from the left to right to create his side's first opening with Ross Glendinning making a fine save before the Glens number 19 whacked the rebound wide when he seemed sure to score.
No matter for the Oval men, they were ahead in the next minute courtesy of a brilliant finish from O'Neill. The 20-year-old found himself in space in the Ballymena half after picking up a clearing header from United captain Jim Ervin and cruised forward before striking a lovely left foot effort into the net from outside the box.
What a moment for the youngster who ran to celebrate with the Glentoran fans in the Kop.
When Christopher Paul Gallagher's cross was deflected goalwards after the half hour it looked as though the Glens would stretch their lead but Glendinning's foot came to Ballymena's rescue.
Like the first half the Sky Blues were on top early on in the second and finally got their reward on 48 minutes when Friel was too sharp for the Glentoran defence powering in a near post header from Steven McCullough's corner. It was Friel's first goal since January when he scored against Crumlin Star in the Cup. What a time to get it. Just before the delivery Glens goalkeeper Elliott Morris had gone down on his line after a tangle with United striker Adam Lecky. By the time he was on his feet Friel's header had sailed past him.
There were few chances or moments of note after that until McDaid grabbed the winner on 116 minutes thanks to a brilliant assist from O'Connor.
Glentoran are back amongst the trophies. Next they will target Linfield's league title.
Ballymena United: Glendinning; Addis (Burns 116), Whiteside, Friel (K Kane 106), McCullough, McGrory (T Kane 37) (Balmer 116), Winchester (Knowles 60), Ervin, Lecky, Millar, Kelly. Subs not used: Williamson, Harpur.
Glentoran: Morris; Kane, Gallagher, McDaid, McClean, Nasseri, Crowe (O'Connor 67), O'Neill (Frazer 83), Cowan, Van Overbeek (Smith 88), Donnelly (Peers 118). Subs not used: Gordon, Antolovic, McGarvey.
Referee: Tim Marshall.