Cushley hopes he can be League Cup final matchwinner again

David Cushley has already scored a winning goal in a League Cup final. Picture Press Eye.
David Cushley has already scored a winning goal in a League Cup final. Picture Press Eye.

The League Cup has already provided David Cushley with one of the undoubted highlights of his Irish League career.

The Ballymena United winger scored the winning goal for Lisburn Distillery in the 2011 League Cup final - then sponsored by CIS - as the Whites beat Portadown to win their first major trophy for almost 20 years.

And the 25-year-old would love nothing more than to repeat that trick as the Sky Blues prepare to take on Cliftonville in Saturday’s final.

“That was certainly one of the best moments of my career so far,” recalls Cushley.

“It’s a strange coincidence but, just like now, I was coming back from a knee injury and wasn’t fully fit so I started on the bench.

“Myself and Scott Davidson both came off the bench and we both scored - I was fortunate enough that I was the winner.

“Some people maybe run down competitions like the League Cup and the County Antrim Shield a bit.

“I can understand why people give the Irish Cup so much importance - it’s the main cup competition and the showpiece end to the season.

“But as far as the League Cup is concerned, it was certainly a big deal for Distillery to win it and it would be the same for Ballymena.

“As far as I’m concerned, a cup final is a cup final - you enter any cup competition with the intention of winning it.

“You always want to improve on the previous season and at the start of the season Glenn told us we should try to finish in the top six in the league and win a cup, after losing in the Irish Cup final.”

Memories of that Windsor Park defeat to Glenavon still haunt Cushley, who still remembers the agony all too well.

“It was a really big disappointment for us all, me included - the whole occasion seemed to get to me and I let myself and everyone else down with the way I played.”

Cushley’s chance to put that to rights was almost taken from him after he underwent long-awaited knee surgery in November.

“It’s something I’ve been bothered with since I was about 19. It’s a condition where the bone starts to grow on top of another bone.

The surgeon said it was the biggest one he had seen and really, the time had come to get something done with it because it was gradually getting sorer and sorer and it was giving me a lot of pain - there were times last season where I was getting up on a Sunday and could barely walk.

In the end I had to get a fair bit chiselled away and also have a tendon shortened

The surgeon told me that I would be out for about six weeks but by the end of that time it was still a bit sore at times and I didn’t have a full range of movement but I was going to the pool and it gradually improved and I was able to do a wee bit of training on Boxing Day.

“I’m already feeling an improvement in the knee since I came back.

“Before, if you got hit on the knee, it was like the sort of sensation you get when you get hit on the funny bone but in my first game back, I got hit a fair rattle just after coming on and there was no problem.

It was frustrating having to sit and watch matches, especially when results weren’t going well.

“But winning at Ballinamallard in the semi-final gave everyone a lift and it was a good target for me to aim for, to be fit for the final.”

Cushley is under no illusions about the difficulty of the task facing United on Saturday.

“Cliftonville have won the league two years in a row and they have strengthened their squad in that time as well.

“It’s strange because over the last few years, we have either given them a really tough game or else they have hammered us - there doesn’t seem to be any in between!

“There’s no doubt that if we play the way we can that we can win it but we have to believe in ourselves.”

The attacking player is one of the players opposing teams’ managers and supporters invariably pick out when it comes to identifying Ballymena’s key players, along with the likes of Johnny Taylor and Allan Jenkins.

Cushley is aware that observers will be tipping him as a potential matchwinner for Ballymena but he insists: “I don’t pay too much attention to things like that.

“If I’m playing, I just try to give it 110 per cent and try to play the best I can, whether it’s a cup final or any other match,” added David.