IRISH LEAGUE: Glenn Ferguson throws down gauntlet to Sky Blues following Shield victory

Ballymena defeated Larne in the County Antrim Shield in midweek
Ballymena defeated Larne in the County Antrim Shield in midweek

Ballymena United manager Glenn Ferguson has thrown down the gauntlet to his players after reaching the County Antrim Shield final.

The Sky Blues saw off Championship 1 side Larne in extra-time to book their place in the January 12 decider.

Carrick Rangers or Linfield lie in wait for the Showgrounds club – who won the trophy in 2012 – but until then Ferguson has demanded “total focus” on the Danske Bank Premiership.

Ballymena sit eighth in the table and eight points outside the top six.

“We have to take confidence from the win over Larne. We have reached another final and now boys are playing for places again for that final,” Ferguson said ahead of Saturday’s trip to Cliftonville.

“We have nearly everyone back fit and raring to go. Gavin Taggart trained last week and should be ready, and we have players back from suspension. So we have a squad there with everyone challenging for places.

“We have 22 or 23 players who are ready to go.

“We showed great character on Tuesday night. A couple of years ago if we had gone 1-0 down with a few minutes to go, we would have given up.

“The Premiership is the focus now from now until the Shield final. We have some big games coming up against Cliftonville, Warrenpoint, Linfield and Boxing Day against Coleraine.

“Big games and we have to stay focused and fit.”

Meanwhile, Ferguson admits he may face a fight to keep hold of talisman David Cushley in the January transfer window.

Cushley showcased his quality once again by bagging the winning goal in Tuesday’s 3-2 win over Larne.

“I have spoken to ‘Cush’. It is a players’ market these days and they will do what they want to do,” the Ballymena boss added.

“I was fortunate enough to have Cush at Distillery for a couple of years, and he has been here for four years. I know what he has to offer, but sometimes players move on. I will just have to wait and see what happens.”