Can Glenn mark first first year in charge by landing elusive trophy?

Glenn Ferguson hopes to lead Ballymena United to their first major trophy for 23 years tonight. Picture: Press Eye.
Glenn Ferguson hopes to lead Ballymena United to their first major trophy for 23 years tonight. Picture: Press Eye.

IT was a goal he probably scored dozens, if not hundreds, of times in his career...

A run to the front post, a close-range header - and with it, Glenn Ferguson broke the hearts of Ballymena United supporters by scoring the winning goal for Linfield in the 2006 County Antrim Shield final.

Even given the bizarre ironies which often crop up in football, not one single person packed into Seaview that night could have dared to predict that the next time United would be in the Shield final - indeed a final of any description - it would be the same Glenn Ferguson who would be in the Ballymena dugout.

Notwithstanding a couple of chastening recent defeats, the man is already held in high regard by United fans for what he has done to turn around the club’s fortunes.

If, however, he oversees the Sky Blues’ first trophy win for a generation, within 11 months of his debut in management, it will suddenly become ‘bronze-statue-of-the-man-at-the-top-of-Warden-Street’ material.

As I was often told when I was younger, it sounds easy when you say it quickly.

Cup finals have generally been as rare as hen’s teeth for Ballymena in the 23 years since United last tasted success in a major competition.

Ironically, it has been in the Shield that they have had the most number of opportunities to end that drought, with a defeat by Portadown in the now defunct Budweiser Cup final in 1993 the only other occasion that the Sky Blues have appeared in the deciding game of a tournament.

Those other three Shield final appearances have brought a fair degree of heartache for Ballymena, none more so than against Cliftonville in 1997 when the game was abandoned, while scoreless, due to objects being thrown onto the pitch from the Reds’ support. United had looked on top in that game but lost the replayed match on penalties.

A further appearance followed in 2002/3 when United, at that stage still in the old first division, were no match for Premiership high-fliers Glentoran.

Ballymena had regained their top-flight status by the time of their most recent appearance in 2006 when the width of the crossbar denied Kevin Kelbie what would have been a likely winning goal before that man Ferguson sealed victory for Linfield.

People have a tendency to look down their noses at the Shield, a magnificent piece of silverware in its own right.

It is decried as being merely a ‘regional’ competition, but when that region happens to encompass the traditional footballing stronghold of greater Belfast, then winning it quite rightly goes down as an achievement.

One thing I will say is that, to be such a ‘Mickey Mouse’ competition, as someone rather disrespectfully described it to me the other day, the reality is that it ‘Disney’ come back to Ballymena too often!

* Follow Ballymena Times Sports Editor Stephen Alexander on Twitter (@Stephen_Bmena)