Opinion: United’s cup heroics help ease disappointment of league form

Ballymena United's County Antrim Shield win over Crusaders was the latest in a series of impressive results in knockout competitions during Glenn Ferguson's time in charge. Picture: Press Eye.
Ballymena United's County Antrim Shield win over Crusaders was the latest in a series of impressive results in knockout competitions during Glenn Ferguson's time in charge. Picture: Press Eye.

There wouldn’t be too many football fans, save perhaps those of the world’s elite clubs, who would grumble if their side won 25 games out of 35.

If a side produced that sort of run of results over the course of a league campaign, there would most likely be an exciting climax come the business end of the season.

Sadly Ballymena United are some distance off producing that degree of consistency over the marathon of a league title.

However, the figures in the introduction of this piece haven’t been randomly plucked out of thin air - they represent Ballymena’s impressive record in cup competitions in Glenn Ferguson’s near four-year tenure at the Showgrounds.

While consistency in the league continues to elude United - Saturday’s concession of a two-goal lead at Carrick the latest example of that - the Sky Blues’ record in knockout competition makes for impressive reading.

In 11 cup events under Ferguson, United have reached at least the semi-finals of eight of them.

The manager’s critics will contend that one trophy success from those eight semis is fairly mediocre - the counter-argument, of course, is that it is one more trophy than the near quarter of a century that preceded it.

In my view, Ferguson deserves to have good cup runs because he treats those competitions seriously and realises their importance to a club who are a long way short of being able to compete at the top end of the league table.

Very rarely will you see Ferguson indulge in the nauseating practice that has crept in, even in Irish League football, of managers making wholesale changes to their normal Saturday line-ups.

Generally speaking, if you look at Ballymena’s team sheet for a cup game, the key men like Allan Jenkins, David Cushley and Johnny Taylor will invariably be there.

It just makes you think - given how far short of the top six clubs Ballymena are in terms of finance to compete for players, how much further adrift would Ballymena be, but for the revenue generated by those cup runs over the past four years?

As it is, United’s players, managers and supporters continue to be left tearing their hair out at the club’s inability to stitch together the type of run of results in the league that will drag them kicking and screaming up the table.

No matter how unpalatable it is for Ballymena fans, cup competitions represent the club’s best chance of success in the short-term.

And for all those supporters who might criticise that, they will have long enough memories to recall that in the pre-Ferguson era, poor league form AND early cup exits were often the norm for United.