‘Archie’ has his eyes on the prize in final

Ballymena United captain Aaron Stewart celebrates his goal against Linfield with team-mate Tony Kane.
Ballymena United captain Aaron Stewart celebrates his goal against Linfield with team-mate Tony Kane.

AARON Stewart was only six months old when Ballymena United last won a major trophy.

But if the Sky Blues can end that 23-year drought tonight, it looks likely that it will be the defender known as ‘Archie’ who will be the first to get his hands on the County Antrim Shield trophy.

Despite not turning 23 until next month, Stewart is the man Glenn Ferguson has entrusted to captain the side in the absence through injury of regular skipper Allan Jenkins.

Lifting the trophy would represent a remarkable journey for Aaron, who came through the Youth Academy ranks at Ballymena at the same time as his father Alfie was bringing the curtain down on his own distinguished playing career with a spell at the Showgrounds.

“I would be lying if I said I hadn’t thought about it,” smiles quietly-spoken ‘Archie’.

“To lift Ballymena’s first trophy for 23 years would be fantastic and it definitely has been in my mind, ever since we beat Donegal Celtic in the semi-final.

“Jenks was only targeting a return in December so I knew if I was captain it could potentially be me lifting the trophy if we win it.

“Having said that, it would be great to see Jenks back in the squad – he played 70 minutes for the Reserves on Saturday and even if we could get him back on the bench it would be a great boost.

“I was a Ballymena fan even before I played in the team so it would mean an awful lot to me.

“We don’t get to too many finals and that is something I’ll be stressing to the players.

“The final hadn’t really been mentioned too much in recent weeks but the fact we had such a bad defeat by Cliftonville and then had Linfield to play before the final, with the 6-0 Irn Bru Cup defeat by Linfield still fresh in the mind, we were just concentrating on going out last Saturday and restoring some pride.

“We might not have come away with any points but I think we proved we can go into Tuesday night’s game with nothing to fear and hopefully bring the trophy back.

“It’s been a strange November for us. Up until now it has been a really good season but two really bad results have put a bit of a downer on the club in the last few weeks but hopefully they are a thing of the past.

“The 6-0 defeat by Linfield is well out of our system now – we restored a bit of pride on Saturday and hopefully we can go out tonight with a clean slate and show we can beat them.

“We just have to go and play our own game and we can definitely win it.

Hopefully we can have a really good support behind us because, believe me, that can make a difference, especially as we know Linfield always have a big crowd behind them.”

Stewart smiles at suggestions that his goal in Saturday’s league defeat – only the fifth of his career in more than 150 senior appearances – came three days too early!

“James Costello and I had a wee celebration mind but I don’t think the timing was right so hopefully I’ll get another one on Tuesday night and the fans will get to see it!” added Aaron.