Ballymena United manager Glenn Ferguson has urged his players to grab the golden opportunity that the Irish Cup semi-final draw has presented them with.
But the Sky Blues boss insists that the minnows of Queen’s University will be no walkover as Ballymena attempt to reach the final of the Blue Riband event for the first time in a quarter of a century.
The Showgrounds outfit booked their place in the last four with an impressive 4-1 win over Dungannon Swifts on Saturday.
Goals from Davy Munster, Johnny Taylor and Darren Boyce (2) kept the Braidmen on track in the cup – Gary Liggett bagged the Swifts’ consolation.
“The most important thing was getting into the hat but Queen’s were probably the team that everybody wanted,” said Ferguson, after his team has despatched Dungannon from the competition.
“Queen’s will have been looking at the draw and thinking ‘I hope we get Ballymena’ because they will think we’re probably the weakest team they could have drawn.
“I’m not going to tell any lies – we were looking to get Queen’s, but we will treat them with the utmost respect and we will prepare as well as we do for every other game.
“We will go into the game as massive favourites which will put pressure on us in itself but it will be a neutral ground. They had a great win over Bangor who had beaten Warrenpoint comprehensively in the previous round so it will certainly be no pushover.”
Ferguson was relieved to have overcome the stubborn challenge of Dungannon, who threatened a brave comeback after a catastrophic first half in which they conceded headed goals from Munster, Taylor and Boyce.
Liggett’s close-range header early in the second half gave Swifts fresh hope before Boyce’s second of the game late on booked United’s place in the last four.
“I said we had to take a chance and give us something to hold onto but by no stretch of the imagination did I think we were going to be 3-0 up so early on with our two centre-backs scoring goals.
“We worked hard at corner kicks and set-pieces. I felt they could be vulnerable at set-pieces from the information we had received from Joe McCall.
“They had nothing to lose and we knew we would be under pressure so it was about managing the game right and trying to keep the ball in the right areas,” added Ferguson.
His crestfallen opposite number Darren Murphy had no qualms about the outcome but says his players will have plenty of regrets.
“Let’s make no mistake about it – to win an Irish Cup tie you have to play for 90 minutes,” he said.
“Ballymena probably played for 75 of the 90 minutes and we probably played for 30 so the best team won, I have no problem saying that.
“I’m 39 years of age and was fortunate enough to play in four Irish Cup finals - they don’t understand the opportunity they missed, they really don’t.
“It will be when they are where I am – as a retired footballer – that they’ll look back and think ‘that’s an opportunity missed, 2014 away to Ballymena, with the teams that were left in the cup’.
“Glenn Ferguson’s group of players wanted it more than Darren Murphy’s group of players – I can guarantee you that Glenn Ferguson didn’t want it any more than Darren Murphy.
“I sat with Glenn for half an hour before the game, we were fortunate to have been there together as players, at Linfield and Glenavon and we talked about which group of players would realise what a big opportunity it is and the disappointment for me is that his players realised that more than mine.
“That’s down to the mindset of the players not the manager.”