Ballinamallard United manager Harry McConkey must feel like bottling the emotion after watching his side reach their first Irish Cup final with a win over Warrenpoint Town in a heart-thumping penalty shootout at Mourneview Park.
With the tense affair goalless after 120 minutes it came down to spot-kicks and United were delirious with delight when Joshua Lynch saw his penalty saved by keeper John Connolly — with the Mallards having tucked away all five of their efforts.
An overjoyed McConkey said: “It is not a nice way to lose it but I tell you what, it is a wonderful feeling when that last one penalty goes in. We really are now in the Irish Cup final and that, for a wee team from Fermanagh who have had a tough year in the Championship, is a wonderful feeling. I can go and enjoy the other game now and we will just see how we go.”
United, who are fifth in the Championship after being relegated from the top tier last season, will come up against Crusaders in the final after they saw off a brave challenge from Coleraine in the other semi-final.
Two spot-kicks after the break gave Crusaders a 2-0 triumph over the Bannsiders in what many are saying was a controversial semi-final encounter at the Oval. It was David Cushley who slid home the opener before referee Tim Marshall awarded Coleraine a penalty for a foul on Ben Doherty. But after talking to his assistant he decided that the infringement took place outside the areas and instead awarded a free-kick. But Jordan Owens made sure with his penalty thereafter and secured a deserved place in the upcoming showdown.
Meanwhile, in the Irish Premiership Ryan Curran’s injury-time strike helped Cliftonville to a 2-1 victory over Glentoran at Solitude and heaped huge pressure on Glens chief Gary Smyth’s position as manager.
It was Paul O’Neill’s thumping header that put the east Belfast outfit in front after five minutes but Rory Donnelly levelled things up with 20 minutes to go. Then Curran hit home following Joe Gormley’s assist as the clock ticked down.
Doubt emerged over Smyth’s position and his future in charge at the East Belfast club last week when a spokesman said that the club were “reviewing all options”. It follows the disclosure that Smyth does not yet have the coaching badges needed to take charge of the club in European competitions.
Elsewhere, there is good news on the horizon for Super Cup NI with two big signings — both Arsenal and Valencia have now confirmed for their debuts in the youth tournament this summer.
Premier League giants Arsenal will travel with their U15 team to challenge in the Junior section, while Spanish club Valencia will jet out their Under-17 squad to contest the Premier section. And Super Cup NI chairman Victor Leonard said:
“We are excited to welcome clubs of the calibre of Arsenal and Valencia. When you consider the talented players, who came through both clubs’ academies there is no doubting the high quality we can expect to see in a few weeks’ time.”
Arsenal Academy manager Per Mertesacker said: “Super Cup NI has a rich tradition of bringing together the best clubs and youth players from across the world and I am proud to add Arsenal FC to the list of iconic clubs to attend this globally recognized event.”