Thursday, May 30, 2024

Cliftonville defeat Linfield in extra-time to win the Irish Cup for the first time in 45 years

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What an extravaganza it was against David Healy’s Linfield at Windsor Park in front of 14,898 delirious supporters.

It started so well for the Blues with Ethan McGee heading them into an early lead. But Cliftonville are made of sterner stuff these days under Jim Magilton.

They roared back in the second half to level through Sam Ashford, before that man Hale took centre stage with a strike fit to grace any occasion.

Then, right on the final whistle, with Linfield trying to salvage the game, using goalkeeper Chris Johns at a makeshift striker, Hale ran half the length of the pitch unchallenged and was actually celebrating before rolling the ball into the empty net. The wait was over . . .

What made their victory even more remarkable was the fact the Reds lost two players because of injury before the interval, goalkeeper David Odumous and young defender Adhran Casey, who looked in some distress when stretched off.

This was Irish League football at its best – it was pulsating stuff – a massive crowd; nine bookings; flying tackles and great goals.

Something really had to give. The Blues were going for their 45th Irish Cup success, while Cliftonville were looking to lift the trophy for the first time in 45 years – it was the League oldest club against the League’s most successful.

Cliftonville’s Ronan Hale celebrates Irish Cup glory

It was the late Jackie Hutton’s Cliftonville side that last lifted the silverware back in 1979, but the party will go on in north Belfast for some time. How those players enjoyed the celebrations at the finish when they got hold of that elusive trophy.

The roof almost lifted off the international arena when both teams emerged from the tunnel area, with plums of red, white and blue smoke at one end of the ground and a cloud of red coming from the North Stand.

It was fast and furious stuff with Linfield having the first sniff at goal after only four minutes. Joel Cooper’s corner kick was recycled by Matthew Fitzpatrick, who found Chris McKee, only to see his shot shovelled clear by Odumosu.

The Blues forged into the lead on 14 minutes. Casey needlessly hauled down Fitzpatrick wide on the right and, when Kirk Millar whipped in a trademark free kick, McGee got in front of his marker Shea Kearney to power home a header – his second goal since joining from Dungannon Swifts in January.

Magilton’s boys came back off the ropes and threatened as the other end for the first time in 25 frenzy minutes. Rory Hale scooped on a delicious delivery from the left channel that use eluded the outstretched boots of his brother Ronan and Ashford.

Cliftonville were then dealt a blow seven minutes before the interval when Odumosu limped off, the legacy of an earlier challenge with Cooper. He was replaced by Nathan Gartside.

Cliftonville captain Chris Curran

Things then got worse for the Reds as defender Casey sustained a serious injury following a challenge from McKee. The 22-year-old signalled immediately that he was in trouble, with players of both sides showing concern. The defender was stretched off after a sustained period of treatment.

Healy’s men went looking for the second goal after the restart with Cooper ghosting past substitute Luke Kenny before finding Millar at the back post, but Stewart produced a great block to save a certain goal.

But the Reds were level on 52 minutes. Rory Hale delivered a fantastic cross from the right and Ashford got in behind Shields to flick home with his head – the red half of the ground erupted!

Suddenly, confidence oozed into the boys in red. They almost sneaked into the lead just after then hour when Rory Hale produced another lovely cross from the left, that was met by Jonny Addis, whose header inched past the post.

The action quickly switched to the other end, with McKee picking out the elusive Cooper, who skipped away from Kenny before firing in a low shot that fizzed inches past.

If anything, the tempo became even more fierce as the clock ticked down with Rory Hale firing in a volley from 20 yards, but it was straight at Johns.

It took Ronan Hale less than 60 seconds of extra-time to produce his moment of magic. Substitute Ben Wilson sent the striker scampering down the left and, after cutting inside, he let fly with a blockbuster that almost ripped out the netting – the Red Army went berserk.

There was still time for a sting in the tale. With Linfield going for broke in an attempt to salvage the situation, the Reds broke through the middle with Hale rolling the ball into the empty net following 50-yard dash – it was the end of an exhilarating Final!

CLIFTONVILLE: Odumosu (Gartside 37), Pepper (Curran 88), Stewart (Mallon 72), Addis, Rory Hale (Gordon 108), Doherty, Burns, Ashford (Wilson 88), Casey (Kenny 46), Ronan Hale, Kearney.

Unused subs: Gormley.

LINFIELD: Johns, Finlayson (Stewart 97), Shields, Millar, McClean, Cooper, Hall, McKee (Graham 77), Mulgrew (Archer 77), McGee (Clarke 93), Fitzpatrick (Annett 106).

Unused subs: Walsh, Doherty.

REFEREE: Jamie Robinson.

Man of the match: Ronan Hale.

Cliftonville logo

Cliftonville

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Linfield logo

Linfield

What a roar as Cliftonville lift the cup!

It looks like Joe Gormley and Chris Curran will lift the cup together

Linfield are on their way up to collect their runners-up medals. 

The match officials are booed as per tradition, but ref Jamie Robinson had a superb game

Linfield could have had that game put to bed in the first half, with Cliftonville struggling to get into the game.

But the Blues didn’t come out for the second half. They had no answer once the Reds took control

Not a Cliftonville fan has left the ground. Nearly all Linfield fans have left – and you can’t blame them

There’s incredible scenes of joy here at Windsor Park. This is a hugely emotional moment for Cliftonville fans and for manager Jim Magilton

Hale ran with the ball for 50 yards to put into an empty net 

CHRIS JOHNS IT OUT OF HIS GOAL

Rory Hale is named Man of the Match 

Hale misses a chance to seal it 

There will be five minutes of added time! 

Kirk Millar sends it over!

Free-kick Linfield on the edge of the box

Kirk Millar flights a ball in, but Gartside claims it. 

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