History beckons for winners of this season’s Irish Cup

Ballymena boss Glenn Ferguson is hungry for success
Ballymena boss Glenn Ferguson is hungry for success

History beckons for Ballymena United or Glenavon after both clubs booked their place in next month’s Irish Cup final at the weekend.

Ballymena’s Premiership quality ultimately surfaced against Championship 2 minnows Queen’s University at the Oval, while Glenavon saw off cup specialists Crusaders in their semi-final at Windsor Park.

It sets up an intriguing provincial showdown on May 3, between two clubs who will look to scribe a new chapter in their respective history books.

The Lurgan Blues’ last Irish Cup success dates back to 1997 when the Mourneview Park outfit recorded a narrow 1-0 win over Cliftonville in front of over 8,000 fans at Windsor Park.

Tony Grant was the hero that day with the only goal of the game in the 22nd minute.

Grant’s heroics are regaled to this very day, and on Saturday the Mourneview legend paid a special visit to Glenavon’s dressing room prior to their semi-final clash with Crusaders.

Call it a twist of fate or an act of inspiration, but Gary Hamilton’s side responded with a superb 3-1 victory after 120 gruelling minutes.

You have to trek back further to unearth Ballymena United’s last Irish Cup success, and again it is the stuff of legend for the club’s loyal fans.

Saturday, May 6, 1989 is the date when Alex McKee’s side earned a narrow 1-0 win over Larne in front of 5,000 supporters at the Oval.

The game itself might not linger long in the memory, but striker Paul Hardy’s instinctive back-heeled goal past incomparable Larne goalkeeper Vince Magee will never be forgotten.

The Sky Blues fans have had to wait 25 years to get another chance at Irish Cup glory, while for Glenavon the wait has endured for 17 years.

Both clubs crave a new hero to bow down to, a new legend to laud.

Both sets of fans are hoping for a new Tony Grant or Paul Hardy to become the 2014 poster boys.

On May 3, 2014 one of these proud clubs will have their day in the sun once again.

Thousands are expected to descend on Windsor for the finale.

It promises to be a fantastic occasion.