DISAPPOINTMENT and dejection was etched on the faces of the Banbridge Town playing squad and large crowd of Supporters as they made their way out of Stangmore Park, Dungannon on Friday night last.
But in reality they can hold their heads high as they fought valiantly throughout a hard fought 120 minutes of entertaining football.
They went head to head giving their all with their illustrious Premier League opponents and matched them - and indeed exceeded them at times - in every aspect of the game and can consider themselves slightly unlucky not to have secured victory in the Mid Ulster FA’s most senior cup competition.
It was ironic that it was an excellently taken goal in extra time from a Banbridge man Matt Hazley that won the trophy for Dungannon Swifts on their own home patch.
Town could and should have wrapped the game up in the first half - a half they controlled with a magnificent offensive display and deserved to go in at the break more than the 1-0 lead they had. They showed their intent from the kick-off and forced an early corner which Swifts ‘keeper Tuda Murphy came to collect.
Stuart Thompson showed good positional sense, putting an end to a promising Dungannon raid and when Paul Walsh made an interception in midfield he raced fully 30 yards before unleashing a shot which Murphy held at the second attempt.
Town were ruling the roost in midfield with captain Barry Tumilty proving to be a colossas showing tremendous leadership. The workrate of Chris McGrath and artistry of Chris Kingsberry were making life difficult for the Premier side.
A Conor Downey volley was brilliantly tipped over by the experienced Murphy and a great Kingsberry flick to send Timmy Grant through deserved a better fate. Swifts winger Chris Lavery got to the bye line before delivering a dangerous cross which Neil Alderdice headed clear.
Alderdice was a rock in the Town rearguard all night and deservedly was awarded with the player of the final trophy after the game by the Mid Ulster Football Association.
Dungannon’s Matt Hazley delivered a curling centre which Devlin headed narrowly over before the goal Banbridge had threatened finally came after 11 minutes.
Walsh fired over a second corner which Murphy couldnt gather and in the ensuing scramble Conor Downey finished to the net to send Town’s supporters into raptures.
The Swifts rallied but found Town incompromising with Mattie McCartan putting in a great shift with some tremendous tackling. Hazley was wide from 22 yards after 16 minutes in a game which swung from end to end.
Paul Walsh despite being surrounded by three defenders still got a 25 yard shot on target after 27 minutes which Murphy struggled to hold momentarily. Dungannon’s Stefan Lavery found Devlin on the edge of the box and he shaved Town’s upright with a fine effort on the turn on 29 minutes as Morley-Hillen advanced to close him down.
Just before the interval Conor Downey got his head to a Walsh free kick and saw his effort go inches past. Realising that they would have to up their game considerably Dungannon pushed forward but were almost caught on 54 minutes when Downey fired a shot across goal which wasn’t far off target.
One minute later it was 1-1 when Swifts’ Fra Brennan scrambled home a Matt Hazley corner which eluded Town ‘keeper Morley-Hillen. It was a strikingly similar goal to Town’s first half effort.
Banbridge still had chances to regain the lead particularly when Timmy Grant was sent clear after 64 minutes but delayed allowing Montgomery to get in a last ditch tackle.
Dungannon introduced ex. Ballymena and Glenavon striker James Costello and he began to influence proceedings with his strength and ability to hold up play. Morley-Hillen produced a breath-taking save to finger tip a powerful Hazley volley over after 72 minutes and Neil King came to Town’s rescue with a fine block from Chris Lavery soon after. Kingsberry hit an 18 yard effort which dipped over the bar but despite the best efforts of both sides it remained 1 - 1 at the final whistle.
Play remained even throughout the first 15 minutes of extra time with Stuart Thompson heading narrowly wide from another Paul Walsh free on 102 minutes and James Costello flashing an effort just over one minute later.
The deadlock was finally broken in the second period of extra time and it was heartbreak for Town. On 109 minutes a loose ball in the Banbridge area was seized upon by Matt Hazley and despite being pushed wide by advancing ‘keeper Morley-Hillen he found the roof of the net from a very tight angle.
Brave Town summed up all the strength they could muster and laid seige to the Swifts goal for the remaining minutes but could not salvage an equaliser and the Mid Ulster Cup went to the Stangmore Park men for the first time since 2009.
In the cold light of day Banbridge Town can look back with considerable pride to their performance on the night and while they did not get that little bit of luck they needed on the night it was obvious to everyone in attendance that Brian Adair and his management team have the solid foundations laid for a very bright future for Banbridge Town Football Club.
TEAMS: Dungannon Swifts: Tuda Murphy, Michael McKerr, Jarlath O’Rourke, Johnny Montgomery, Fra Brennan, Terry Fitzpatrick, Chris Lavery, Matt Hazley, Ryan Devlin, Stefan Lavery, Ryan O’Neill. Subs: Jamie Glackin (for Chris Lavery 100 mins.), Johnny Curran, Adam McMinn (for O’Neill 65 mins.), Grant Hutchinson, James Costello (for Devlin 56 mins.).
Banbridge Town: Nathan Morley-Hillen, Mattie McCartan, Stuart Thompson, Neil Alderdice, Neil King, Barry Tumilty, Conor Downey, Chris McGrath, Timmy Grant, Chris Kingsberry, Paul Walsh. Subs: Steven O’Neill (for Downey 68 mins.), Ryan Gourley, Adam Pedlow (for Walsh 112 mins.), Michael Ferguson, Aaron Cobb.
Referee: Mark Courtney (Dungannon).