WHAT a day it was for the outsider on Saturday, writes Michael Scott at Mourneview Park.
At about the same time that Auroras Encore was romping home in the Grand National at 66-1, the tide was turning in Lurgan.
Glenavon were cruising to a 2-0 win, perhaps unjustly, as Banbridge Town had given a good account of themselves against senior opposition.
The obituries were being penned as Town were heading to a defeat had been expected by many, despite a battling first half performance and giving a decent account of themselves.
But this Town team, guided from the sidelines by Brian Adair, himself a Glenavon supporter and a former product of the club’s youth system, did not go down as expected.
It was on the 70th minute that the wind began to change. Just as Ryan Mania was holding his whip aloft as he crossed the line first at Aintree, Town’s man-of-the-match Timmy Grant struck to give his team mates the lift they needed.
And boy, did they seize on it.
It was a much changed Glenavon side from the one who played Dungannon Swifts on Easter Tuesday, with fringe players given their chances. But the team which Gary Hamilton sent out to take on the Town, and with no disrespect intended, should have been more than capable of seeing off their Championship Two opponents.
Davy O’Hare, a man with much Irish League experience, was in goals while Kyle Neill, a league winner with Glentoran and Portadown, came in at left back. Sean McCashin, who has been included in Northern Irish U21 squads and Conor Hagan, another Irish League familiar face were also in the home defence.
In midfield the player boss lined up with Niall Henderson, while junior internationals Robbie McDaid, Andy Mitchell and Ryan Corrigan were also in the Lurgan Blues’ starting XI.
For the Town Paul Walsh and Barry Tumilty, two players who had served their time at Mourneview Park, started as did another Lurgan lad, Neil King.
Town started brightly and had three good chances in the opening 10 minutes. O’Hare was forced into action to push away a Stuart Thompson blast from six yards out and from the resulting header Willie Herron headed wide. Later Conor Downey had an effort cleared off the line by McCashin after O’Hare had clashed with Grant.
Hamilton might feel he should have put his side ahead with a glancing header when Jordan Dane flicked on Henderson’s cross but the manager’s chance went narrowly wide.
On 15 minutes a Walsh cross caused havoc in the home box. O’Hare spilt the ball and Matty McCartan - perhaps the wrong player in the right place - couldn’t swing his foot around to put the ball into the empty net.
Mitchell, captaining his hometown team, put the Lurgan Blues in front on 25 minutes with a well taken header from a Neill free kick, having won the set piece inthe set piece in the first place.
And the big striker helped to double the Mourneview men’s advantage just three minutes later when he robbed Walsh of possession just outside the Town box, charging down on Nathan Morley-Hillen before squaring the ball unselfishly to McDaid to slot home. That should have been curtains for Banbridge.
Glenavon continued to try and put their intermediate opponents to the sword. Matthew Rooney’s cross looking for McDaid was cleared away by Neil Alderdice and from the resulting corner, as Town failed to clear their lines, Dane’s powerful volley was forced away by Morley-Hillen.
Hamilton himself tried to add a third but his dipping effort went over the bar.
After six minutes of stoppage time - where that came from we’ll never know, not that it mattered in the end - the half time whistle came. Town regrouped for a second half which, while not as plentiful in terms of chances for either team, would be one of the most extraordinary 45 minutes of football seen at the Premier League venue this season.
Both teams settled into the half with the only real early chance falling to Herron, who was proving a threat in the box. His header, from another Walsh corner, was kicked off the line by O’Hare.
Then, almost from nowhere, Town pulled a goal back. Downey’s initial shot inside the box was blocked by a defender. The ball fell kindly for Grant, who made sure with a powerful effort. You would have been forgiven for thinking that this goal was going to be scant consolation for the visitors. Little did we know that the comeback was on.
First, though, Glenavon tried to kill the game off and Mitchell controlled a ball from Jude Ballard on the corner of the box. He turned and volleyed goalward but Morley-Hillen did well to pluck the ball out of the air.
Seventy-seven minutes had elapsed when the unthinkable happened. Grant had proved a thorn in the side all afternoon and his initial shot was blocked by O’Hare. Chris Kingsberry followed up with McCashin clearing only as far as the former Newry City man who finished to stun Mourneview Park into silence - except, of course, for the amassed travelling support and the very happy souls in the Director’s Box.
The game was headed for extra time with neither side wanting to give an inch to their opponent. In fact Banbridge almost nicked the win through Kingsberry who let fly from 25 yards out but the experienced O’Hare stood firm and saved well.
The final whistle blew and extra time loomed. Both sides kept up the pace and Tumilty might have done better with his effort from the edge of the box on 97 minutes after being laid off by Kingsberry.
But it didn’t matter. One hundred minutes had elapsed when Town took the lead in sublime fashion. Downey put the ball over the top and down the right flank for substitute Stephen O’Neill. He lifted his chance over the top of the onrushing O’Hare and into the back of the net to spark wild celebrations.
After the quick break Glenavon sought a levellerr and Hamilton felt he should have been awarded a penalty when he went down - fairly easily it has to be said - under a challenge but referee Alistair Burns waved play on.
Then came a real hammer blow for the hosts when, with Grant bearing down on goal, O’Hare rushed out of his box and ‘saved’ the striker’s shot outside the box, leaving referee Burns with no option but to send the goalkeeper off for hand ball.
McCashin went in goals but almost immediately went up to attack a corner on 112 minutes. Kyle Neill swung the ball in and with the Town defence unable to clear their lines Jude Ballard pounced at the edge of the box to volley home and make it 3-3.
After McCashin flapped at a corner kick the decision was made to hand the goalie gloves to Mitchell ahead of the penalty shootout. Glenavon went first and club captain Brendan Shannon was denied with Morely- Hillen saving low to his right. Mitchell then saved from Timmy Grant’s low shot and Downey’s spot kick to the right either side of Hamilton blasting Glenavon in front, all before his mate, Neill, made it 2-0 down the middle of the target.
McCartan sent Mitchell the wrong way to pull Town back into it 2-1 and when the stand in keeper missed his penalty O’Neill slotted home to make it 2-2.
It all came down to the last two kicks and fortune was on the Town’s side. Ballard blasted his penalty off the crossbar, leaving Walsh to bury his. His muted celebrations, a mark of respect to the club he made his name at, a stark contrast to the scenes elsewhere at Mourneview.
As some will know this reporter too is also an unashamed Glenavon fan, but nobody there on Saturday could complain at the final whistle about the outcome. Town fully deserved their win and their prize for a battling win is a semi-final date with Lurgan Celtic with a date yet to be arranged.
Glenavon: O’Hare, Neill, McCashin, Dane, Hagan, Rooney, Henderson, Corrigan, Hamilton, McDaid, Mitchell. Subs: Ballard (IHenderson 67#0, Teggart (McDaid 61), Shannon (Rooney 105), Brown, Lindsay.
Banbridge Town: Morley-Hillen, Thompson, Walsh, Alderdice, King, Tumilty, McCartan, Herron, Grant, Kingsberry, Downey. Subs: McGrath (King 40), Gourley, O’Neill (Herron 67), Pedlow, Cobb (Alderdice 120).
Referee: Alistair Burns