Irish Cup Final 2022

Official Matchday Programme - Irish Cup 2022 - Saturday 07 May, Ballymena United vs Crusaders





Message from the President 3 Chief Executive's Welcome 5 Sponsor's Welcome 7

David Jeffrey 8 Leroy Millar 10 Ross Redman 12 Ballymena United : Road to the Final 14 Ballymena United Squad 16 Stephen Baxter 22 Billy Joe Burns 24 Ben Kennedy 26 Crusaders : Road to the Final 28 Crusaders Squad 30 The Match Officials 34 The Road to the 2022 Final 37 The History of the Irish Challenge Cup 39








On behalf of the Irish Football Association may I welcome the players, officials and supporters of Ballymena United and Crusaders to the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park.

to Irish Cup final victories on two occasions. There is also the prospect of European football at stake so both men will be even more highly motivated than usual today. I should like to thank the Irish Challenge Cup Committee and Irish FA staff, led by Andrew Johnston, for their hard work throughout the season which brings us to this special occasion today. My thanks also goes to our sponsors – Samuel Gelston’s Irish Whiskey – for their kind patronage of the Irish Cup. It is fitting that the Samuel Gelston name, which has a great deal of history going back to the 1830s, should be associated with this competition which dates from the 1880-81 season. The two clubs’ chairmen, John Taggart (Ballymena United) and Ronnie Millar (Crusaders), have both made me most welcome at their grounds this season and I wish both well today. Most importantly I hope that the game is a great spectacle played in the best possible spirit by players cheered on by great supporters. I hope you all enjoy today’s game.

Of course, the Irish Cup Final is a game which attracts interest beyond the support of the two participants and I therefore also welcome the neutrals who have come along to enjoy the spectacle which is the premier cup competition match in Northern Ireland football. It has been a long road since the first Preliminary Round One game was played between Ballynure OB and Seagoe on 7 August. Along the way I have had the pleasure of attending some of the games, including ties at Carrick Rangers, Cliftonville and Ballymena United. For me the excitement of the competition builds dramatically in Round One when intermediate clubs have the chance to pit themselves against more senior opposition. None of the non Northern Ireland Football League clubs made it to Round Two this year but Ards Rangers, Islandmagee, Windmill Stars and Oxford Sunnyside will have enjoyed the experience nonetheless. It will have left themwith memories which will become a part of their club folklore. Ballymena United last added their name to the Irish Cup in 1989 when they defeated Larne, while Crusaders will be looking to emulate a more recent success, the 2019 final when they defeated Ballinamallard United 3-0. Jordan Owens, Philip Lowry and Ross Clarke scored the goals that day. Neither manager is any stranger to cup final success, of course. As a manager David Jeffrey has led teams to an Irish Cup triumph on seven occasions, with Stephen Baxter leading the Crues

Conrad Kirkwood Irish FA President




Welcome to the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park for the Samuel Gelston’s Whiskey Irish Cup Final between Ballymena United and Crusaders.

Excitement is high as usual for what has been since 1881 the most romantic and exciting day of the domestic football season. As with all countries around the world, league championships are won and lost over the long haul of a full season (by the way, congratulations to Linfield on winning their 56th title last Saturday and commiserations to Cliftonville who pushed them all the way to the final whistle) but cup competitions often throw up different finalists and so it is today. Crusaders have taken the Irish Cup home to the Shore Road four times, the most recent being just three years ago when they beat Ballinamallard United 3-0 here. Ballymena United fans need to have longer memories to recall the sky blue ribbons being placed on the trophy though. Although they have appeared in two Irish Cup finals in the last eight years it was as far back as 1989 when they last took the cup up the road after beating Larne 1-0 across town at The Oval. I don’t think either manager today would mind me describing them as much decorated veterans of the domestic game (although if I bump into them I might just describe them both as legends!). David Jeffrey’s haul of 31 trophies in his 17 years at Linfield was tremendous, and he's now been at the helm of the Braidmen for six years, bringing the League Cup home back in 2017. Stephen Baxter has been manager of the Crues for 17 years himself now, and during that time has

won three Premiership titles, two Irish Cups, one League Cup and one Setanta Cup. Suffice it to say that these old rivals and friends will know each other’s thinking inside out and will both have been formulating game plans to get a slight edge on the other today. I suspect given this degree of experience in the respective dugouts it will be a closely fought contest. Let’s see! On another footballing note I know that many of you will be back here in a month’s time for the senior men’s UEFA Nations League matches against Greece on 2 June and then Cyprus on 12 June. If you haven’t got your tickets yet for either or both of these matches please hurry up as they are going fast. And, finally, the UEFAWomen’s Euro finals are now nearly upon us. Kenny Shiels is leaving no stone unturned to prepare our squad for their matches against Norway, Austria and England in Southampton in July. The Green and White Army will no doubt be out in force for these games and the tournament is sure to be a memorable chapter in the history of football in Northern Ireland. Enjoy the match today!

Patrick Nelson Chief Executive Irish Football Association





It’s a genuine honour for us at Samuel Gelston’s Irish Whiskey to be in our first year of sponsorship of the Irish Cup, one of the world’s oldest cup competitions, and to be in Belfast where the very first Irish Cup final was staged in 1881. It’s also the place that has been the home of our brand since 1830.

With crowds thankfully returned this year to add their voices to the usual array of agonies and ecstasies that come with knock-out competition, this year’s cup, the first Samuel Gelston’s Whiskey Irish Cup, has continued to provide all the drama and excitement we all crave so much. What started all the way back on 7 August 2021 with the first of the preliminary rounds now culminates in today’s showpiece final between Ballymena United and Crusaders, a match-up that promises to be an electrifying battle after two very hard-fought semis. United will be hoping to turn their cup final defeat of 2020 and run to the semi-finals last year into a first win since 1989 and a seventh overall. Crusaders will be looking to add win number five to their 2019 glory. An exciting match lies ahead. Following two years of restrictions to combat Covid-19, the return this year to the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park for the cup final and the full return of crowds to stadiums

around the country has been a breath of fresh air as we look forward to a safer future and enjoying the simple pleasures of going to the game and supporting our teams. Seeing the fans back in full voice and number is going to be some sight, and the recent past reminds us how precious these days and memories are. So the very best of luck to Ballymena United and the very best of luck to Crusaders as we look forward to these two great clubs and their supporters creating a grand occasion, with the worthy winners lifting the Samuel Gelston’s Whiskey Irish Cup later today! Johnny Neill Owner Samuel Gelston’s Irish Whiskey







David Jeffrey has promised not to do any Usain Bolt impersonations if Ballymena United manage to beat Crusaders to the line in today’s Samuel Gelston’s Whiskey Irish Cup final.

“There’s no doubt about it, we will be underdogs, and that’s not playing mind games or anything like that. You only have to look at the facts,” he said. He pointed out Crusaders have a lot of excellent players, including the likes of Adam Lecky, Jude Winchester and Jonathan McMurray who are all ex-Ballymena United players. Jeffrey continued: “They have been on a fantastic run of form in recent months and they’ll probably be frustrated that they weren’t in there challenging for the league. “But their performances have been highly impressive and, as it is for us, it will be a big motivation to them to secure European qualification by winning the Irish Cup.” While the Irish Cup proved elusive to Jeffrey as a player, he lifted the trophy seven times as Linfield boss - in 2002, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011 and 2012. He also led Ballymena to the 2020 showpiece, only to lose 2-1 to Glentoran after extra time. The game was played in front of only 500 spectators due to Covid-19 constraints. “The Irish Cup, ironically, was never really kind to me as a player,” said Jeffrey. “I think I only played in two finals for Linfield and the infamous trilogy of finals for Ards against Bangor. “I never enjoyed any success as a player, but was very fortunate and blessed to lift the trophy seven times during my time as manager of Linfield. “It is always a privilege to be in an Irish Cup final and given that I will be 60 in October, God willing, I don’t know howmany more opportunities I will get. It would be magical if we managed to bring the Irish Cup back to Ballymena. It would be immense, absolutely immense.”

The Sky Blues boss tweaked a hamstring while darting up the touchline during a 2-0 win over the Shore Road men in the Danske Bank Premiership in November. And the 59-year-old doesn’t plan a similar celebration if his players manage to deliver the Braid club’s first Irish Cup in 33 years at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park. “I took off like an ageing Usain Bolt after our second goal and I can assure you that I won’t be attempting that ever again,” smiled Jeffrey. “I felt a ping after 10 yards and thankfully it wasn’t a torn hamstring, but if you had seen the state of me trying to walk back to the dugout, well, it was embarrassing. “I can promise you that if any celebrations have to be called upon, they will be becoming of a gentleman who, God willing, will be 60 on his next birthday.” While Jeffrey embraced talk of potential celebrations with a throaty chuckle, he also knows United are heading into today’s showpiece as firm underdogs. Crusaders finished fourth in the NIFL Premiership, ended the season with a keen sense of momentum and are odds-on favourites with the bookies.

Words Darren Fullerton, Daily Mirror




Leroy Millar is eager to end 33 years of hurt and five years of personal frustration in today’s Irish Cup decider.

“That was my first Irish Cup final and it was a bit surreal,” said Millar. “People talk about it being a blue riband event and it being one of the biggest days in the football calendar. “It’s normally about being suited and booted and a big crowd and it wasn’t that because of Covid restrictions. It was different, but it was still a chance to win the Irish Cup. We played very well against Glentoran, but Robbie McDaid scored the winner in extra-time and we were pipped to the line. “I was injured at the time of the 2014 final when we lost to Glenavon, although I was young and wouldn’t have made the matchday squad. I remember watching that final at home and thinking ‘this is one of those games you want to play in’. People say it’s a pressure day, but this is why we play football.” Being a local lad Millar is all too aware that Ballymena’s last Irish Cup triumph is now over 30 years in the rearviewmirror. You have to go back to 1989 to find the last time the Braid club lifted the trophy, beating Larne 1-0 thanks to a cheeky Paul Hardy backheel at the Oval. “It's been a long, long time since Ballymena won the cup so it would be extra special if we could end that wait this year,” said Millar. “I know older supporters remember 1989 fondly and if we could do something similar it would go down in history.”

It is more than three decades since the Sky Blues last lifted the blue riband trophy, a Paul Hardy goal sealing a 1-0 win over Larne in the 1989 showpiece at the Oval. It is also five years since Ballymena captain Millar last tasted success with his hometown club, lifting the 2017 BetMcLean League Cup with a 1-0 win over Carrick Rangers at a packed Seaview. In the intervening period the midfielder has suffered defeat in four different finals - the 2018 and 2019 League Cup deciders, the 2020 County Antrim Shield final and the 2020 Irish Cup finale. “Winning my first final as a Ballymena player in 2017 is a special memory and I never thought I’d still be looking to add to it five years later,” said Millar. “It’s always special getting to finals but winning them is an entirely different experience and you never know when your next opportunity is going to come. “I've had a few frustrating experiences in recent finals but hopefully I’ve learned from all those experiences and we can put things right this year.” Millar was part of the Ballymena set-up - he made his debut in 2013 - when the Warden Street club lost the 2014 Irish Cup decider to Glenavon. He also covered every blade of grass in vain when the Sky Blues suffered a 2-1 loss to Glentoran in the 2020 showpiece which was played in front of just 500 fans due to Covid.

Words Darren Fullerton, Daily Mirror








Ballymena United defender Ross Redman hopes to replace the sour taste of regret with champagne in today’s Samuel Gelston’s Whiskey Irish Cup Final with Crusaders.

“I said to some of our younger players to enjoy the build-up and take it all in, but when it comes to the match be ready and give your best.” Due to Glentoran’s appeal over the Joe Crowe eligibility affair, Ballymena had to wait for their semi-final with Newry City, beating the Championship club 1-0 in Lurgan 11 days ago. “It’s been a quick turnaround for the final and we haven’t had too much time to dwell on it, unlike Crusaders who have maybe had more time to prepare,” said Redman. “We can expect a tough game against the Crues because they finished in the top six in the league and they are also a full-time team. “They have put in some outstanding performances and you could argue they have been one of the in form teams in the latter stages of the season. “They’ll be favourites, but if we produce what we’re capable of and maybe get that little bit of luck you need along the way then hopefully it goes our way.” While the Crues are fancied by the bookies, the two clubs boast two wins apiece in four meetings in all competitions this season. “We’ve had some great battles with them and it could be an interesting and entertaining final, but we know we’ll have to be at our best,” said Redman. “It’ll take a big team effort to get the result we want.”

Redman experienced two Irish Cup finals with former club Portadown and on both occasions he digested the unpalatable pain of defeat on local football’s grandest stage. In the 2010 final, when he was aged just 20, the versatile left back was part of a Ports side that lost 2-1 to a Linfield teammanaged by current Sky Blues boss David Jeffrey. “Peter Thompson scored inside two minutes and I remember Philip Lowry making it 2-0 to Linfield with a header,” recalled Redman. “Kevin Braniff scored a good free-kick to get us back into it but, typical Linfield, they frustrated us for long parts and held on to lift the cup.” Five years later Redman was on the end of a controversial 1-0 defeat to Glentoran at the Oval, a game partially overshadowed by a contentious refereeing decision. Glentoran’s winner came a minute after Ports midfielder Michael Gault appeared to be tripped as he raced through on goal only for the officials to wave play on. “The less said about that final, the better,” sighed Redman, who is hoping it’s third time lucky with Ballymena United this afternoon. “You can have a long career, but you don’t always get the opportunity to play in a final or lift the Irish Cup. The older you get the more you appreciate these moments. “It’s a fantastic competition and one of the big two trophies you can win here. It’s also a route into Europe which is important for a club like Ballymena.

Words Darren Fullerton, Daily Mirror



On the way to today’s big game Ballymena United saw off NIFL Premier Intermediate side Portstewart, NIFL Championship teams Loughgall and Newry City plus Larne from the NIFL Premiership.

ROUND TWO On a saturated pitch Ballymena put three past Portstewart at the Showgrounds to reach the quarter-finals. Portstewart showed early promise, however Ballymena took the lead on 17 minutes. Paul McElroy produced a skilful run down the left and delivered a powerful cross into the six-yard box. Ryan Waide, steaming towards goal, managed to get his right foot to it and guided the ball into the net. Ballymena bossed possession for most of the first half, although very few opportunities were created. Three minutes into the second half a long ball from Conor Keeley found its target and roles were reversed as Waide’s looping header across goal was nodded in by McElroy. The second goal strengthened the Sky Blues’ grip on the game. Nine minutes later Place crouched down to meet a cross from Redman and steer the ball across goal into the bottom corner. In worsening weather the game was all but over after 55 minutes. The visitors had a few attempts, while Ballymena battled to find a fourth, however the tie ended 3-0.

First up they welcomed Loughgall to the Showgrounds and, after a scrappy win, progressed to the second round. At home again in round two they took their chances and put three past Portstewart in a match that was hampered by rain and wind, Larne proved to be tough opponents in the quarter-finals at the Showgrounds in Ballymena. They gained a two-goal advantage in the first 15 minutes but Ballymena hit back. It was 3-2 to Larne at half-time, however a brilliant free-kick fromMikey Place in the second half took the game to extra time. Ballymena progressed to the semi finals after a dramatic penalty shootout. David Jeffrey’s charges sneaked past Newry in the last four at Mourneview Park. They won the game with a brilliant free-kick and defensive masterclass after going down to 10 men in the second half. ROUND ONE Christopher Rodgers and AndrewMcGrory were on target as Ballymena navigated a tricky tie against Loughgall. After failing to convert a couple of chances in the opening 26 minutes, Ross Redman’s corner landed perfectly for Rodgers to tap the ball in with his right foot. The rest of the half was a cagey affair with the only threat being Loughgall’s first shot on target, which hardly troubled goalkeeper Sam Johnston. Another Redman corner, this time cleared by the Villagers, rolled to McGrory on the edge of the penalty area and he slammed the ball into the back of the net. Loughgall’s goalkeeper was left motionless and Ballymena were 2-0 up in the 54th minute. The Sky Blues appeared to have scored a third but instead a free-kick was awarded to Loughgall. The visitors then produced some decent attacking play, and had a couple of penalty appeals dismissed, but Ballymena overcame the determined Championship side to progress to the next round.


Words Natalie Bowles

SEMI-FINAL After the fine comeback against Larne in the previous round, expectations were high prior to Ballymena’s trip to Mourneview Park. Neither Ballymena nor Championship side Newry City created many clear-cut opportunities in a lacklustre affair. Controlling the ball proved difficult as it spent most of the first half in the air. Half-chances were created by Ballymena from free-kicks but none troubled the Newry goalkeeper. The second half started with the Sky Blues upping the ante, and seven minutes after the restart they scored the match’s only goal. An unstoppable 25-yard free-kick from McCullough put his team in the lead and it proved to be the winner. Then Brendan Barr prevented a Newry counter attack, which caused outrage among Newry players and sparked a brawl on the pitch. Once things calmed down two Newry players were shown yellow cards and Ballymena’s KymNelson received a red for his involvement in the melee. With 15 minutes still left on the clock, and only 10 men on the pitch, the Braidmen put all their efforts into defending. There was an intense end to the game with a few heart-in-mouth moments for the Sky Blues fans, however McCullough’s strike and a textbook defensive performance were enough to send Ballymena to the final.

QUARTER-FINALS With six goals and a penalty shootout, Caolan Loughran became the hero in a quarter-final to remember. Larne started strongly. Lee Lynch shot first-time from the edge of the penalty area and an unlucky deflection sent the ball over Sean O’Neill into the net. Less than 10 minutes later Lee Bonis controlled the ball from a 40-yard pass and kept it low on the half volley to double the visitors’ lead. Larne almost increased their lead further but O’Neill blocked Scott’s shot and the rebound was fired over the crossbar. McElroy then pulled one back from the spot, confidently scoring in the 25th minute to provide a glimmer of hope for the home side. Larne defender Albert Watson almost took the game out of reach by scoring from a corner on the half-hour mark. The Sky Blues did not lie down though and Steven McCullough had a shot pushed onto the bar. Before the break McCullough drove forward again and delivered the ball for David Parkhouse to head into the net, reducing the gap to one goal. After the break Ballymena had an opportunity to equalise when McElroy intercepted a poor kick from Conor Devlin but the Larne stopper recovered well and blocked the shot. The only goal of the second half came from Place whose free-kick from the touchline floated over the goalkeeper into the net. After a pretty uneventful extra time period, penalties were reqiuired to determine a winner. O’Neill saved two spot kicks and Loughran slotted in the decider.



Jordan Williamson Goalkeeper

Sam Johnston Goalkeeper

Lee Chapman Defender

Ross Redman Defender

Joined from PSNI in 2018 and has now established himself as number one choice in goal. Suffered a bad knee injury just before Christmas which kept him out for a lengthy period but he has recently returned to the side again. Commanding in the air when coming for crosses and a fine shot stopper.

Sam signed from Dungannon Swifts at the start of the season and has been competing with Jordan Williamson for a starting place in the team. Appearances have been limited so far but he is a very good keeper who has done really well when in the team.

Started his career with Glentoran before joining Carrick Rangers. He signed for Ballymena United at the start of this season. Can play either in defence or as a midfielder. Likes to join in attacks and is a reliable defender. Has not played as many games as he would have liked but has looked assured when in the team.

Highly experienced left sided defender who has also played in the centre of defence when needed. Ross was with Portadown for 12 seasons where he won a League Cup winner’s medal. After joining Glentoran he had a loan spell with Dungannon before signing on with the Braidmen at the start of 2020-2021. Won a number of Player of the Year awards in his first full season with the club.

Sean Graham Defender

Caolan Loughran Defender

Malachy Smith Defender

Steven McCullough Defender

Sean was with Ballymena United before opting to go to the United States on a football scholarship. He has since returned and rejoined the Sky Blues where he has become an established member of the side at left wing back. Good on the ball and has good positional sense in defence. Recently signed a two-year contract extension.

Started his senior career with his hometown club before joining Carrick Rangers. He returned to Ballymena United last summer and has made 17 starts so far this season. A whole-hearted player who loves playing for Ballymena. Scored a wonderful winning penalty in the shootout against Larne in the quarter-final. Dangerous at corners and set pieces.

Mal joined United on loan fromGlentoran in January and already has made nine appearances at full back. Very assured on the ball and is a popular player with the fans. Good in possession going forward and likes to join the attack. Exciting young talent who demonstrates a lot of maturity. Came on as a sub for Glentoran in the final against Ballymena two years ago.

Has been at the club for five seasons now after joining from Carrick Rangers and is an established member of the squad. Missed a large part of last season due to a serious foot injury but he has come back to establish himself once again. Scored a sublime free-kick to win the semi-final against Newry City. Played in the final two seasons ago.


Words Bill Wray (Sky Blue Review)

Chris Rodgers Defender

Conor Keeley Defender

Jordan McMullan Defender

AndrewMcGrory Midfielder

Another local lad who after a few seasons at the Showgrounds joined Carrick Rangers before returning to his hometown club. He had won a place in the centre of defence with some assured performances before picking up an injury which has subsequently curtailed his appearances.

Signed from Dublin side Cabinteely midway through the 2020-2021 season, Conor has been an ever present since then with some outstanding performances in the centre of defence. Very assured on the ball, he likes to get forward and has scored some vital goals. Won a host of Player of the Year awards a few weeks ago, which was recognition of his popularity and influence in the team.

Another product of the Ballymena United Youth Academy. Jordan made his first team debut last season aged just 18 and was in the team for the final league game of this season against Dungannon Swifts last Saturday. A highly rated player who looks to have a promising career ahead of him.

Signed fromGlenavon five seasons ago and in that time he has become a vital member of David Jeffrey’s team. Has played both in midfield and as a wing back. Won an Irish Cup winner’s medal with Glenavon in 2014, ironically beating Ballymena United in the final. Has a wealth of experience and will undoubtedly be looking to start this afternoon.

Can score goals from corners and set pieces.

Brendan Barr Midfielder

Jack Henderson Midfielder

Joshua Kelly Midfielder

Leroy Millar Midfielder

Joined on a loan agreement from Derry City, where he is highly rated, originally until the end of December but has extended that to the end of the season. Small in stature but a dynamic midfielder who has recently been putting in some excellent performances. Popular player who will be vying for a starting place in this afternoon’s big game.

Started his career with Glentoran before leaving for the USA on a football scholarship. On his return to these shores manager David Jeffrey quickly moved to sign the talented 21-year old. Has recently had a run in the first team and had a very good semi-final performance against Newry City at Mourneview Park.

Josh was signed fromArds three seasons ago and soon made a name for himself with some excellent form in the centre of midfield. He was made club vice captain at the start of this season but picked up a bad injury in only the second game which ruled him out of action until a couple of months ago. Just coming back to something like his best form again.

Another local lad who came through fromUnited’s Youth Academy to become club captain, taking over from Jim Ervin at the start of this season. Strong, energetic player who runs all day and chips in with some excellent goals. A player who will give everything for the cause and he has stated that it will be a massive honour to lead out the team today.



Michael Place Midfielder

Ryan Waide Forward

David Parkhouse Forward

Signed fromGalway United in January, Mikey has made 14 appearances so far. Scored a vital equalising goal in the 3-3 draw against Larne in the quarter-final which led to the penalty shootout victory. At his best when taking on defences, he is a fast winger who has an eye for goal.

Ryan has been at the club for two seasons now and is a vital member of the squad. Fast, tricky forward who likes to take defenders on. Has represented Northern Ireland at Under-21 level since he has been at the club. He is sure to feature in today’s game and he will be keen to get on the scoresheet.

Joined the Sky Blues in the summer but had the awful luck to pick up a serious knee injury in the very first game of the season, keeping him out of action for four months. Showed great determination in his fight back to fitness and the former Northern Ireland U21 international became a hero with the fans with a 90th minute winner in the Boxing Day derby with Coleraine.

Paul McElroy Forward

Kenneth Kane Forward

David Jeffrey MBE Manager

Joined from Crusaders in October 2020 and has become leading goalscorer in the team. Very good close control and can quickly sense scoring opportunities. Works hard for the team and is willing to track back to help the defence. Lethal penalty taker who has scored many times from the spot. Scored 16 goals last season and has followed that up with 15 so far this campaign.

Joined Ballymena United from junior club Dervock three seasons ago but has had to be patient to get games. Scored a late equaliser in the semi final against Coleraine two seasons ago to take the game to penalties His patience and determination have seen himmake 22 starting appearances this season and he is sure to be in this afternoon’s squad.

Needs no introduction. A legend in the Irish League, the former Linfield defender managed the Blues where he won everything in the local game. Won the Irish Cup seven times as manager of Linfield before stepping down in 2014. Many were surprised when he returned to management to take over the reins at Ballymena United in 2016. In his first full season at the Showgrounds he won the League Cup. He also led the team to qualification for the Europa League, a feat he repeated two years later. Recently awarded the MBE in the Queen’s Honours List, David still retains an immense passion for the game.


Words Bill Wray (Sky Blue Review)


Bryan McLoughlin Assistant Manager

Nathan McConnell Assistant Manager

Darren Fox Goalkeeping Coach

Brian Patterson OBE Team Doctor

Bryan has had a long association and coaching partnership with David Jeffrey. When David was assistant manager at Larne in the 1990s he asked Bryan to be reserve teammanager. They then moved on to Linfield where they had a very successful time. When DJ took over at Ballymena United his first ‘signing’ was Bryan as assistant manager. Bryan’s knowledge and experience of the Irish League are vital ingredients of the management team.

Former United striker Nathan returned to the club two years ago when he was appointed coach to the Under-20 side. At the end of last season the club coaching infrastructure was reviewed with Nathan joining the first team staff. Nathan has extensive experience of the Irish League having also played for Lisburn Distillery, Cliftonville and Carrick Rangers. Highly rated coach and an integral part of the coaching staff.

Darren is now in his third season at United, having taken over from previous goalkeeping coach Alan Simpson. A former Linfield youth and Dundela keeper, Darren was previously goalkeeping coach with Dundela and then Ards before joining the Sky Blues. Tasked with producing quality goalkeepers at first team level as well as developing promising juniors. Darren is currently working towards his UEFA B Goalkeeping Licence.

Brian has been team doctor for several seasons. Having been a GP all his career the club were delighted to welcome him onboard and he has travelled extensively with the team both at home and in Europe, looking after the medical needs of the players. A very popular figure with players and officials alike, Brian is also a top grade cricket umpire and has umpired in Australia and South Africa as well as in this country.

David Douglas Performance Analyst

Gary Crosbie Physiotherapist

Bertnel Thompson TeamAttendant

A lifelong Ballymena United supporter, Davy was previously involved with the club’s Youth Academy before taking over as Performance Analyst, a role which he has been carrying out for 11 years. His job involves monitoring the players’ GPS, real time analysis and the preparation and formatting of opposition reports. Working closely with the manager and coaches, Davy provides analysis to prepare for training and matches.

Gary joined the club in 2017 having come highly recommended. Initially brought in to cover for two games in pre season, Gary made an instant impression and was offered the job full time. Having previously worked in a team environment with Donegal Celtic and also at Body Basic Sports Injury Clinic, Gary has brought extensive skills and knowledge to his role at Ballymena United.

Bertnel has been with Ballymena United in this role for over 25 years and in that time he has seen it all at the club, having worked with no less than seven managers. A highly popular and respected figure throughout football in this country, Bertnel unselfishly carries out a lot of work behind the scenes ensuring that every detail is attended to. A true Sky Blues legend.


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Stephen Baxter is relishing the challenge of locking horns with the man he once viewed as “a hero” before becoming one of his best friends.

He said: “You never sit back and pat yourself on the back. David Jeffrey won six or seven doubles at Linfield and never did that. The celebrations lasted a night, then it was back to work. It’s relentless. “Milestones and things like that are nice but your DNA is getting straight back to it. You have tomove with the times and that’s the life as a football manager. “You have to have that great desire to win, and if you don’t then you should not be in football – or certainly not at my club.” Since defeating Cliftonville in the semi-final Baxter has had to navigate his way through five tough league games, with several players nursing niggles. But they’ve maintainedmomentum ahead of the showpiece and both he and his players are raring to go. “The squad is looking great. When we won the semi final I knewwe were stepping into five highly charged, competitive games against the best sides in the country,” he said. “With the size of squad we have, we were starting to get ourselves into a position where we had a few knocks that we’d have tomanage.” He revealed the deal was that everyone would play a minimumof two games, possibly three, while some of his players appeared in four of the matches. The Crues boss continued: “I had tomix that through the games and there were four or five changes for every game and there was one where there were eight changes - which I got a little bit of stick for. I actually found it a little disrespectful but people look at certain things from afar and don’t think through what they’re talking about. “But when you hear that sort of thing I let that noise go over my head. It’s all about keeping people fit and we’ve managed to do that. “The teamwere phenomenal. The balancing act worked out to try to suit us and I believe it’s worked in our favour because I’ve been able to rest players while keeping our momentumgoing. “People wouldn’t have forgivenme if we’d come into the Irish Cup final with four or five people unavailable because of injury.”

Baxter’s Crusaders take on David Jeffrey’s Ballymena United in the Samuel Gelston’s Whiskey Irish Cup final this afternoon in a battle of two of the most successful managers in the history of Irish League football. Both have won everything the game has to offer, but despite their respective trophy hauls in the past the two born winners will be as hungry as ever for success at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park today. “David Jeffrey is a lifelong friend of mine. We go back to when he came back fromManchester United and signed for Linfield,” said Baxter. “I was just a wee boy signingmy first contract at Ards at 19 and David was a hero inmy eyes. “We played our first game against each other and David headedmy ear instead of the ball - and probably purposely. I had a black ear for a fortnight! “He was a tough, tough guy and a great player. Then a couple of years later I joined Linfield and he was the captain and we became very good friends, along with four or five other lads.” Years later the pair became professional rivals as managers and Baxter had to learn from Jeffrey as a youngmanager. He pointed out: “You’re always learning fromhim and I always wanted to get close to what he was doing and slowly but surely we got on top of them a couple of times. “We are rivals and we try to beat each other but the respect we have for each other is enormous. He’s a giant of a man and a person I respect somuch.” Baxter recently celebrated 850 games at the helm for the Crues but, like today’s counterpart Jeffrey, he has never been one to rest on his laurels.

Words Mark McIntosh, The Sun



Crusaders captain Billy Joe Burns has described Declan Caddell as the “perfect team-mate” ahead of the midfielder’s retirement after today’s final.

Burns has a 100 per cent record in Irish Cup finals, winning all four of his previous appearances in the showpiece. His last winner’s medal came in 2019 against Ballinamallard United and he insists he will never take the occasion for granted. “This will be my fifth Irish Cup final, and I’ve been lucky enough to win all four of my previous ones,” said Burns. “I don’t know if that’s a good or a bad omen but I’m yet to lose one and hopefully that continues. “I’ve been fortunate to win league titles but the Irish Cup is different. It’s one big day and it’s a special day for everyone involved - if you win it. Lifting trophies is always the same but the Irish Cup is a bit different as a spectacle.” Earlier in his career, at Linfield, Burns won lots of league and cup doubles and thought he was going to end up with lots of Irish Cupmedals. But he pointed out: “Obviously it never works out like that, and that’s why you always have to enjoy these moments. “There’ll be more people here because it’s a big final, but it is important to go out and try to win the game, just as you would any other game. “Anything can happen in cup finals. I’m sure Ballymena are buzzing to play us because they’ve already beaten us twice this season and they’ll think they’ve a good chance to win as well.” The Crues would qualify for Europe automatically with a victory over Ballymena United today and Burns is determined to finish the job. He said: “We’re so lucky in our league that we get the chance to play in Europe. There are people playing at a high level in England who never get the chance to kick a ball in Europe. “We are very privileged and it’s something I’ve never taken for granted. Playing against different styles of teams/players throughout Europe is something you’ll tell your grandchildren about, such as when we playedWolves a few years ago.”

One-clubman Caddell will bring the curtain down on an illustrious playing career at Seaview before focusing his attention on his role as Head of the Academy at the club. Ex-Linfield ace Burns went head-to-head with Caddell many times before moving across the city to north Belfast in 2014 - and he was relieved to have himon his side. “There are a few players who were at the Crues when I moved there that optimised everything that’s great about the club, like Declan, Jordan Owens, Colin Coates, Sean O’Neill and Chris Morrow and they played a major part in building Crusaders into the club we are now,” said Burns. “I can only speak about him as a team-mate and you genuinely could not ask for a better team-mate. “He’s not one of those people who goes about thinking he’s great and doesn’t want to work hard. He’d run through a brick wall for you and as a team mate all you want is someone to have your back.” He pointed out Caddell’s energy, tackling and heading is “incredible”. And he added: “He’s always been underrated as a footballer if you look at the goals he’s scored in his career. “I can’t speak highly enough of him. I obviously played against him a few times when I was at Linfield and I never looked forward to it because I knew he’d kick you and run through you and those types of players deserve every bit as much credit as the players like Ben Kennedy who have skill to burn.”

Words Mark McIntosh, The Sun







Ben Kennedy is determined to make it a hat-trick of family members to win an Irish Cup winner’s medal this afternoon.

The classy Crusaders star is hoping to follow in the footsteps of his dad Brian and uncle John, who both got their hands on the famous trophy in the 1990s. Brian was part of the Glenavon side that defeated Linfield on the biggest day of the Irish League calendar at the Oval in 1992, while John scored the winner for Glentoran against Glenavon six years later. “I ampart of a big footballing family and they have great memories of Irish Cup finals,” said Kennedy. “It’s my first cup final since I was 15 or 16. Some of my family have won the Irish Cup, so it would be really special for me to win it. “It’s 30 years ago this year since my dad won it playing for Glenavon andmy uncle John then won it and scored the only goal of the game for Glentoran. “There’s always a lot of banter with the family askingme if I’ve ever won the Irish Cup but it’s getting boring now - I’mgoing to have to get a winner’s medal so I can throw it back at them.” He revealed several family members will be in the stands this afternoon to cheer himon. “They are all going to be here for the final. I can’t say anything tomy uncle Peter. Even though he didn’t win the Irish Cup, he did play in the Premier League withWatford, and I only played further down the leagues earlier inmy career. “My dad gives me stick all the time but I don’t think he can find his medal, so if I win it I think I’ll have to rub it in his face!” Since joining the Crues fromStevenage in 2020, Kennedy has become a firm fans’ favourite at Seaview. His eye-catching performances, particularly this season, have catapulted him to being one of the stars of the NIFL Premiership.

But it wasn’t plain sailing when he first arrived at the Shore Road club and he has revealedmanager Stephen Baxter and his team-mates have played a huge role in him falling in love with football again. And, perhaps ominously for the rest of the league, he believes there is muchmore to come fromhim in the future but he wants to end this campaign on a high by claiming Irish Cup glory. He revealed: “The boys and the manager have played a big part inme rediscoveringmy love for football again and I’mhappy to have been able to contribute the way I have this season. “I’ve enjoyed it and I’mdoing what I know I can do, but I know I have it inme to go to another level and that is something I’mdetermined to do. “We’ve improved on last season as a team, so let’s hope we can end the season with some silverware. “Declan Caddell is retiring after the game and it would be a good send-off for him if we were able to win the trophy and hopefully we’ll be able to do that.” Kennedy further revealed he loves taking part in big games. “These are the types of games I thrive off. I love big occasions, big atmospheres and big games and hopefully - if selected - I can turn up and help the boys. I’d love to score a goal or two on cup final day. I'd love to score and bring out my guitar celebration again,” he said.

Words Mark McIntosh, The Sun



Crusaders came up against three fellow NIFL Danske Bank Premiership sides during what was a tough journey to the final. Ballinamallard United were the only Championship side faced, although they proved to be tricky opponents.

Stephen Baxter’s side navigated their first two rounds - against Glenavon and Ballinamallard - without conceding a goal and putting a total of five past their opponents. The quarter-final proved to be quite a challenge as Dungannon Swifts came back after going 1-0 down to lead 2-1 after half-time. Crusaders found an equaliser quickly afterwards, and the Crues progressed to the penultimate round thanks to a brace from Jordan Owens in the final minutes. Crusaders initially trailed Cliftonville in the semi-final before Ross Clarke pounced to level the scores. The game was won before the break when captain Billy Joe Burns nudged the ball home from close range.

behind the ball when it was played, keeping him onside. The Crues then had another let-off with another disallowed Glenavon goal. This time Andy Waterworth was offside when he tapped in a rebound. Crusaders kept pushing, however, and Paul Heatley grabbed their second goal of the game by controlling a long ball from defence and skipping past the Glenavon keeper before sliding the ball into the net. Ben Kennedy produced a neat curler to make it three before Heatley grabbed his second of the tie to seal the victory. ROUND TWO In a repeat of the 2019 Irish Cup Final, Crusaders went on the road again to face Championship side Ballinamallard United. And they secured their spot in the quarter-finals with the only goal of the game. Inclement weather at Ferney Park meant both sides found it difficult to move the ball around. Ballinamallard put the ball in the Crusaders net 20 minutes in, but the effort was disallowed as the referee said the Crues keeper had been fouled in the build-up. The home side then hit the bar from a corner, however there was very little other goalmouth action in the first half. Philip Lowry scored the only goal of the game with a close range finish on 52 minutes. Kennedy delivered a corner which was nodded down by Daniel Larmour. A simple tap-in from a yard out by Lowry was enough to put Crusaders in the lead. Ballinamallard were by no means out of the tie as chances kept coming and they hit the crossbar for a second time. Down the other end Forsythe almost took advantage of an error from the Mallards keeper. Despite further attempts from Ballinamallard, Crusaders had done enough and saw off late threats from the home side to proceed to the quarter-finals.

ROUND ONE Crusaders cruised past Glenavon, registering a comfortable 4-0 win at Mourneview Park. The Crues were one up after just four minutes. Jordan Forsythe produced a strong solo run before netting with a powerful shot from 20 yards. They continued to create the better chances in the first half with Clarke hitting the woodwork. Two minutes into the second half the assistant referee judged Matthew Snoddy’s potential equaliser as being offside, although the player was


Words Natalie Bowles and Nigel Tilson

QUARTER-FINALS The weather could not have been more different than in Fermanagh in the previous round. The blue sky lit up Seaview for a much more exciting game which saw Crusaders reach the semi-finals courtesy of a 4-2 win over Dungannon Swifts. The home side started strongly and scored on 31 minutes when Josh Robinson powerfully headed home a looping ball delivered from a corner. The nerves of Crusaders fans were not settled for long. Seven minutes after the opening goal Rhyss Campbell was brought down in the area and a penalty awarded to the Swifts. James Knowles sent the goalkeeper the wrong way, levelling the scores going in to the break. Early in the second half Dungannon took the lead via a solo run from Campbell and a well placed shot that flew past Jonathan Tuffey into the bottom corner. Crusaders dug deep and worked the ball into the Swifts’ box. Kennedy expertly chipped the ball over the keeper to equalise just before the hour mark. Chances kept coming for both sides but super sub Jordan Owens decided the tie with two goals in the dying minutes. After only being on the pitch for a matter of minutes the striker rose well to score with a header. A hard-fought victory was then sealed when Owens got on the end of a Kennedy cross and blasted the ball into the top of the net.

SEMI-FINAL A north Belfast derby was staged across town at the National Stadium as the Reds and Crues met in the last four of this season’s Samuel Gelston’s Whiskey Irish Cup. Cliftonville opened the scoring early when Levi Ives drove the ball into the box towards Joe Gormley – and the striker perfectly angled his right foot to steer the ball between the goalkeeper and post. The Reds were controlling the game at this stage, keeping possession in the middle of the park and lobbing balls down the channels for Paul O’Neill to chase down. A disallowed goal prevented Cliftonville from doubling their lead as the assistant referee correctly called for offside. Despite the Cliftonville defence looking relatively relaxed, with Jonny Addis imperious, Crusaders levelled the scores on 35 minutes. Reds keeper Luke McNicholas failed to deal with a ball into the box. It fell for Clarke on the right side of the area and he duly fired it across the face of goal into the net despite McNicholas' best efforts. In first half stoppage time Crusaders moved in front in somewhat scrappy fashion. A corner was flicked on to the back post for captain Billy Joe Burns to get the final touch and turn it home. Their second goal put Crusaders in the driving seat and they produced a defensive masterclass after the break to repel the Reds. Cliftonville had plenty of possession without really threatening the Crusaders goal. Stephen Baxter’s charges comfortably saw out the game to take their place in the decider.


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