Goal hero Gary’s footballing fortunes turn full circle

Gary Thompson celebrates his crucial late equaliser against Glentoran with team-mate Tony Kane. Picture: Press Eye.
Gary Thompson celebrates his crucial late equaliser against Glentoran with team-mate Tony Kane. Picture: Press Eye.

Gary Thompson admits it has been a long and painful road back from his Irish Cup final heartache.

But the midfielder says his crucial injury time equaliser against Glentoran at the weekend has given him a significant personal lift, as well as helping Ballymena United maintain their position among the early-season pacesetters in the Danske Bank Premiership.

Thompson was infamously red-carded - wrongly, in the opinion of many observers - in the Irish Cup final defeat by Glenavon, a decision which was then compounded by a three-match suspension at the start of this season.

But there were plenty of smiles as Thompson grabbed the crucial equaliser which gave 10-man Ballymena a battling point against the Glens.

“I thought we had lost it when they scored near the end,” admitted Thompson, last season’s Players’ Player of the Year at the Showgrounds.

“But we kept going, the ball went through to Surgy who took a touch and laid me in and I managed to squeeze it through a couple of their players on the line.

“The boys give me a wee bit of stick at times about my finishing so I tried to get the head down and hit the target and luckily enough this time it went in.

“It was a crazy game, right from going down to 10 men so early on and you’re thinking ‘could it be one of those days?’ but fortunately we got the goal.

“To be honest, when you look at the chances we’ve missed, the penalty, Matthew Tipton with a couple, we actually could have won the game.

“If Glentoran had won that game 2-1 we would have been so disappointed but thankfully we’ve got a point and we move on to this weekend at Coleraine.

“It’s a crazy game, football, My niece has been to two games, the Irish Cup final and then Saturday’s game so it’s been some contrast for her and me!

“I’ve tried not to dwell on the Irish Cup final - it happened, it’s an experience that we’ll try to learn from and go one better next time.

“I missed the first three games of the season through suspension, came back against Newington in the League Cup and played 20 minutes before I got a dead leg.

“From that, the fluid seemed to be getting into my knee so that kept me out for a couple of weeks so it’s been a frustrating start to the season for me.

“Opportunities will come along for everybody throughout the season with injuries and suspensions.

“I knew I just had to keep myself right, wait my turn and when it eventually came, I would have to take it,” added Thompson.