United aiming to break League Cup ‘duck’

Ballymena United are bidding to win the WASP Solutions League Cup trophy for the first time. Picture: Press Eye.
Ballymena United are bidding to win the WASP Solutions League Cup trophy for the first time. Picture: Press Eye.

Irrespective of the result on Saturday night, Ballymena United will write a new chapter in the club’s history.

This will be the first occasion on which the Sky Blues have contested a final in the trophy, unofficially the second most prestigious in terms of stature behind the Irish Cup.

Having first been competed for in the mid-1980s, the League Cup perhaps lacks the history associated with older tournaments like the Irish Cup and County Antrim Shield.

But while Ballymena supporters can recall successes in both those competitions, the League Cup is one which has always managed to elude the Showgrounds club.

Indeed, a quick look at Ballymena’s record in the competition brings back memories of some of the biggest embarrassments in the club’s history.

In its early days, the opening round traditionally saw senior teams drawn against then ‘B’ Division opponents and Ballymena tended to get through those opening fixtures before bowing out the first time they came up against senior opponents in the second round.

However, it wasn’t even a guarantee that the Sky Blues would get past the first fence. In October 1989, the defending Irish Cup holders exited the competition after a 2-1 extra-time defeat at Brantwood.

Another inglorious exit followed in 1993/94 when Tommy Jackson’s troubled time in charge reaches its nadir wither a penalty shootout defeat to Tobermore after a scoreless draw.

It took Ballymena until 2002/3 to even reach a semi-final in the League Cup when Kenny Shiels’ team, still in the old first division, lost 5-3 to Glentoran in a memorable match at the Oval.

A switch to a group format in the mid-’Noughties’ brought no change to United’s fortunes with regular exits in the group stages, but since the competition moved to its current format, United have enjoyed a renaissance, reaching two semi-finals and a final in the past four years.

The first of those semi defeats, against Crusaders in 2010/11 saw Roy Walker resign immediately after the game, while Crusaders again destroyed United’s hopes in the last four last year, after United lost 4-3, having led 3-1 through a David Cushley hat-trick, where, ironically, Cliftonville would have been the final opponents.