Ballinamallard United Under-18s lifted the Harry Cavan Youth Cup by defeating Cliftonville Strollers in the decider at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park on Friday night.
The Mallards won a penalty shootout 3-1 after the game ended goalless following 90-plus minutes and 20-plus minutes of extra time.
Goalkeeper Nathan Hunter was the hero for the Fermanagh side. He saved two penalties in the shootout and was excellent throughout the match.
It was an entertaining encounter. Cliftonville created more chances during the game, however the Mallards carved out good opportunities, too.
There was a lively start to the game, and both sides were keen to get the ball forward.
Shane Haughey’s speculative effort from distance almost caught out Mallards keeper Hunter, with the ball just dropping over the bar.
Then Ballinamallard’s Josh Gallagher had a low drive deflected out for a corner.
In the 20th minute Cliftonville’s Jack Berry drifted in from the left flank and cleverly tricked his way past a handful of Mallards defenders to tee up Padraig McVicker and his low shot from 25 yards was also deflected out for a corner.
Berry was involved again when he fed Darragh McGrandles down the left and his cross to the back post was met by Kevin McGuinness whose header across the face of goal was cleared by Jamie Steele.
Ben Mallon held the ball up superbly on the edge of the area and laid it off to McVicker who let fly, however Hunter held on to the ball.
Down the other end Dylan Boyle was inches away from putting the Mallards ahead with a scuffed close range effort, however Reds defender Daire Russell showed remarkable composure to drag the ball back off the goal-line and bring it clear.
A Haughey piledriver was blocked by Adam Armstrong as the Reds attacked once again before Russell drilled a shot over the top.
The lively Berry, initially picking the ball up on the halfway line, sped clear of the Ballinamallard defence but Hunter raced off his line to save superbly with his feet. His clearance fell to McGuinness who sliced the ball past the upright from eight yards.
The first opportunity of the second half fell to Mallon, whose snapshot was pushed away by Hunter.
Ballinamallard’s Daniel Barker left a couple of players in his wake as he bore down on goal and was unlucky to see his powerful shot come back off the woodwork. Moments later Haughey fired an effort inches wide for the Reds.
Chances were few and far between as both defences worked tirelessly to snuff out any hint of an attack. Steele and captain Aaron Smyton were immense for the Mallards, while Russell and captain Logan Wallace were excellent for the Strollers.
The big pitch was also taking its toll on the players, with several suffering cramp.
McGuinness had the ball in the net for the Reds in added time, however he was deemed to be in an offside position by referee Tom Symington when he received the ball prior to tucking it away.
Ballinamallard manager Ryan Beacom was red-carded after he angrily objected to the Cliftonville backroom staff intervening when midfielder Alex Magee, who had run his socks off all night, suffered cramp along the touchline. The Cliftonville physio was also given his marching orders following a melee.
Reds substitute Joseph Sheridan slammed the ball against the woodwork six minutes into extra time after the ball was cut back to him by Shea Kearney.
Both sides huffed and puffed but could not find a way through, so penalties were required to decide the outcome.
In the shootout Kearney took the first penalty and scored for the Reds and Smyton scored the Mallards’ first spot kick. Hunter saved from Wallace before substitute Joshua Ness tucked home his penalty.
Hunter then dived full length to push Haughey’s penalty around the post before substitute Ben Arnold hammered his spot kick into the net.
Cliftonville substitute Ciaran Boyle then saw his effort hit both posts before bouncing out – and that miss meant Ballinamallard won the cup after winning the shootout 3-1.
Cliftonville Strollers: Dylan Braik, Darragh McGrandles, Daire Russell, Logan Wallace (captain), Shea Kearney, Padraig McVicker, Kevin McGuinness, Ben Mallon, Shane Haughey, Jack Berry, Matthew McWilliams.
Substitutes: Sean Neilan, Joshua Ness, Joseph Sheridan, Stephen Crumlin, Ciaran Boyle.
Ballinamallard United U18s: Nathan Hunter, Alex Brownlee, Aaron Smyton (captain), Adam Armstrong, Jamie Steele, Alex Magee, Joshua Killilea, Cameron Crook, Dylan Boyle, Josh Gallagher, Daniel Barker.
Substitutes: Jamie Ray, Ciaran O’Reilly, Shane Speak, Kealan Fitzpatrick, Ben Arnold.