At a bouncing Mourneview Park Glentoran reached their second Irish Cup Final in three years as they overcame the odds to defeat league leaders Crusaders. With most bookies putting the Glens at around 4/1 to win the game and the Crues having won all three meetings between the sides this year it was fair to say that upon arrival in Lurgan, the wee cock n hens were massive underdogs. To add, George Gray, Steven Gordon, Jordan Stewart and Willie Garrett were all bed-ridden with the flu this week - however the latter three managed to make the journey after late decisions.
No fewer than 1,654 Glenmen crammed into the away end at Mourneview Park with the allocation, having been raised further a few days befre the game, completely selling out. Within three minutes though their hearts were in their mouths as Declan Caddell fired an early effort inches wide of Elliott Morris' upright, before Timmy Adamson saw his shot suffer the same fate and a decent Crusaders' penalty shout for handball waved away by the officials.
It was in all honesty, bar those few opportunities, a fairly even game in the minutes after with perhaps Glentoran shading it as they looked a little sharper than their north Belfast counterparts, and Curtis Allen's volley midway through the opening forty-five was destined to find the corner of Sean O'Neill's net only for former Glens legend Paul Leeman to stick his head in the way. But, on 41 minutes the Glens found a way through after great interplay between Allen and Kym Nelson found the former in the six yard box and the number nine buried the chance to send the men from east Befast into utter delirium.
That relatively heated half ended soon after and the Glentoran dressing room knew that the Crues would come out all guns blazing second half. Indeed, it would turn out to be that way - and from the off the Hatchetmen attacked and could've had another decent shout for handball when Morris looked to punch the ball away from right on the line of his own box. However, Stephen McAlorum did fire a dipping effort just over the bar from 25-yards to relieve some of the pressure after 49 minutes.
Two minutes later and Jordan Owens went through on goal but made a total hash of the chance and the ball rolled away to safety. By now the Crues were throwing everything forward but the absolutely outstanding Glentoran defence and midfield rarely looked troubled in dealing with the endless long balls being pumped their way by the Seaview side. With five minutes remaining a Nathan Hanley free-kick almost caught Morris backpedalling and the Glens' skipper had to stretch to tip the ball over.
It had been a fairly tight game with few opportunities until now but as the clock neared 90 it really opened up. First, Caddell was lft unmarked at the back post after a ball into the box and should've levelled only to blast it into the side netting with the goal gaping. Then, with three minutes of stoppage time remaining, Marcus Kane absolutely steamrolled Caddell in midfield and his header found McCaffery who unselfishly squared to Allen, only for O'Neill to do really well to make himself big and keep the Crues' hopes alive. In the last minute, with every Glenman shaking and begging for the final whistle to go, Diarmuid O'Carroll found a gap in the Glentoran defence but his toe-poke slammed the underside of the bar and bounced away to safety.
Cue utter delirium. The final whistle went and hundreds of Glentoran supporters piled onto the pitch to celebrate with their heroes. A truly awe-inspiring moment and the season has been extended by a week now with May 2nd confirmed as the date of the final. The celebrations went long into the night as Glentoran, who were written off everywhere bar the Oval before a ball had even been kicked as also-rans this season, overcame the odds to set-up a showdown with Portadown at Windsor Park. Bless 'em all.
Photographs by Thomas Sewell.
Highlights and reaction from both managers on BBC Sport NI HERE
Glentoran: Morris (capt), Holland, Birney, Garrett, Kane, McAlorum, Henderson, Nelson, Stewart, McCaffrey & Allen.
Subs: Gordon for Nelson (75), Scullion for Stewart (78) and Addis for McCaffrey (92). Unused: Hogg & McKee.