It may not be the first weekend of May and it may be when teams are normally in the midst of their preparations for the new season, but the Irish Cup final finally takes place tonight and personally I can’t wait!
Ballymena and Glentoran are the sides competing to lift the famous trophy having saw off Coleraine and Cliftonville respectively in Monday night’s semi-finals. Of course, both games went all the way to penalties and no doubt that could have an impact on both teams heading into the showpiece final due to the lack of competitive action of late and the quick turnaround.
This is Ballymena’s second final of the season with David Jeffrey’s side having met beaten semi-finalists Cliftonville in the County Antrim Shield final back in January. The Sky Blues were desperately unlucky in that game having taken the lead early in the second half through Leroy Millar, who had to make do with a place on the bench on Monday, only to concede twice in the closing minutes of the game to come out on the losing end 2-1.
Ballymena have proven themselves as a good cup team in recent years, having lifted the League Cup in 2016-17 and reached the final a further three times in the last five years. United also have a recent pedigree in the County Antrim Shield, reaching four of the last seven finals and lifting the Shield on two of those occasions. The Irish Cup however has eluded Jeffrey’s men since they last won the competition in 1989, beating Larne in the final that time, since then the closet they have come to lifting cup was in 2014 when they made it all the way to the final but were beaten by Gary Hamilton’s Glenavon side.
One man who is no stranger to tonight’s occasion is the Ballymena manager, who will be managing a club in the showpiece fixture for the 8th time. Of the previous Irish Cup finals Jeffrey has managed in he has won seven and has not lost a cup final as a manager since his first one in 2000-01. All of Jeffrey’s previous Irish Cup wins came with his former side, Linfield, so no doubt to add another with Ballymena will provide great satisfaction.
Glentoran manager Mick McDermott in contrast is taking part in his first Irish Cup final, albeit much of his coaching career has been outside of his native Northern Ireland. McDermott is no stranger to the big stage though, having been assistant manager to Carlos Queiroz with Iran at the 2018 World Cup and will be looking to cap his first full season at The Oval off in perfect style.
The Glens do have quite a history in the Irish Cup, they have won the competition 22 times and been runners up a further 19 which makes them the second most successful team in the competitions history behind only Linfield, for the record Ballymena are the 8th most successful team in the Irish Cup with five wins and 12 final appearances. The East Belfast club also hold the record for the most consecutive Irish Cup wins having lifted the trophy four times in a row between 1985 and 1988. Glentoran’s last two appearances in the final were in 2012-13 and 2014-15, with both resulting in wins.
Recent results between the sides would suggest that the advantage lies with The Glens who have won their last four games against Ballymena, United’s last victory over the men from the east came in November 2018 by a 2-1 scoreline at The Ballymena Showgrounds.
You may have noticed that our writer’s charity League of Ireland prediction league returned today so just for fun our team have given their predictions for tonight’s final and you can see these below: –
Ballymena United 0-2 Glentoran
1-1 at 90, Glens win 2-1, aet. 3 red cards. Commentators mention Michael O’Neill more than once. Attendance of 500.
2-1 to Glentoran and Gavin Peers will join an elite group of players who have won both the FAI Cup and the IFA Cup!
Glentoran go in as favourites but that is just how David Jeffrey and his side want it as if any team can pull off a cup upset its Ballymena. If pushed, I will go for Ballymena to win 2-1 in extra time but could easily see more penalties.
Ballymena United 1-3 Glentoran
Ballymena 1-1 Glentoran. Ballymena win 4-3 on pens.
If you are one of the lucky few attending the match at Windsor tonight, then enjoy the day as best as possible. If like most of us, you are watching at home here’s hoping for a great game.