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Saturday 04 May 2024
Cliftonville end 45-year wait for Irish Cup glory

Cliftonville’s long wait to win the Irish Cup for a ninth time is over. A 3-1 victory over Linfield this afternoon ensured the club’s class of 1979 have passed the baton to a new generation.

And Jim Magilton’s Cliftonville team had to bridge the 45-year gap the hard way in front of almost 15,000 fans at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park.

The Reds lost two key players to injury in the first half but still found the wherewithal to get the job done.

The Clearer Water Irish Cup trophy was claimed thanks to two extra-time goals from Ronan Hale and another from Sam Ashford in normal time.

Remarkably, given that the Blues had won the cup a record 44 times and Cliftonville had lifted it on eight occasions prior to the game, it was the first time the two Belfast teams had met each other in the Irish Cup decider in 90 years.

It was an entertaining game. The Blues bossed the first half, but the Reds were much better in the second half and deservedly won the trophy for the first time since 1979.

Linfield made a fast start. Kirk Millar had a dangerous free-kick cleared for a corner before Chris McKee’s shot was pushed away by Reds keeper David Odumosu, who then collected a Joel Cooper shot with ease.

The Blues took the lead on 14 minutes through a belter from Ethan McGee.

Millar fired in a free-kick and Northern Ireland Under-21 international McGee lost his marker, Shea Kearney, before heading home powerfully from eight yards.

Two minutes later Blues defender Daniel Finlayson, getting on the end of another pinpoint Millar delivery, put a header wide at the back post.

Then midfielder Kyle McClean let fly, but his shot was comfortably clutched by Odumuso.

It took Cliftonville more than 20 minutes to launch their first dangerous attack. Captain Rory Hale, who would later be named man of the match, whipped a cross into the area which evaded Ashford by inches at the back post.

Then Hale teed up Ronan Doherty inside the area, but his shot sailed high over the bar.

Odumosu bravely saved at the feet of Cooper as Linfield launched a swift counter attack.

The Reds keeper tried to play on, however he was eventually replaced by Nathan Gartside.

Kearney blasted an effort over the top after a lovely piece of skill from Ronan Hale in the middle of the park presented him with the opportunity to shoot.

Millar found Cooper with a clever pass from a corner as half-time approached, however Cooper miskicked the ball and it was cleared.

Right at the end of the half Odhran Casey fell awkwardly after a challenge from McKee. The Cliftonville defender was subsequently stretchered off the pitch.

Linfield threatened just after the interval. Cooper’s dangerous low cross found Millar at the back post but his effort was blocked by Sean Stewart.

Minutes later Cliftonville equalised. Rory Hale found space down the right flank and whipped a cross into the area which was headed powerfully into the bottom corner by Sam Ashford from seven yards.

The goal lifted the Reds and the Red Army. Rory Hale’s free-kick found central defender Jonny Addis who planted a header past the upright.

It was then Linfield’s turn to attack, with Cooper firing a low cross wide of the far post which just evaded striker Matthew Fitzpatrick.

On 73 minutes Rory Hale’s stinging drive from just outside the area went straight into Chris Johns’ midriff as Cliftonville pushed forward once again.

The game got a bit scrappy as the 90-minute mark approached, however Reds skipper Rory Hale made an important intervention as Cooper was about to let fly on the edge of the area.

Reds defender Paddy Burns drifted forward in added time and had a shot on goal, however his effort was held by Johns.

Cliftonville took the lead less than a minute into the extra period of play. Substitute Ben Wilson fed the ball to Ronan Hale down the left flank. He cut inside and skipped past a couple of defenders before hammering the ball into the corner of the net from 16 yards. It was a lovely strike.

Ronan Hale’s deflected effort hit the side netting and then McClean’s snapshot was saved by Gartside.

In the second period of extra time a dangerous cross to the back post from Linfield substitute Jordan Stewart was headed clear by Reds sub Stephen Mallon, and then a Stewart shot went well over the top.

In the closing stages Linfield laid siege to the Cliftonville goal, however the Reds defence held firm. Burns, Addis and substitutes Luke Kenny and Stephen Mallon worked their socks off to keep the Blues at bay.

Millar came within inches of grabbing an equaliser for Linfield with a free-kick which drifted just off target.

But then, putting the icing on the cake, Cliftonville broke from a Linfield corner in the final minute of the encounter to score a third. Ronan Haleraced clear from inside his own half to run the ball into the Linfield net, celebrating as he strode forward.

When it came to lifting the trophy, team captain Rory Hale stepped aside to allow club captain Chris Curran and veteran striker Joe Gormley to have the honour of lifting the Irish Cup and writing a new chapter in Cliftonville's history.

Cliftonville: David Odumuso, Conor Pepper, Paddy Burns, Jonny Addis, Odhran Casey, Shea Kearney, Sean Stewart, Rory Hale (captain), Ronan Hale, Sam Ashford, Ronan Doherty.

Substitutes: (used) Nathan Gartside (GK), Luke Kenny, Stephen Mallon, Ben Wilson, Chris Curran, Shea Gordon; (unused) Joe Gormley.

Linfield: Chris Johns, Chris Shields, Daniel Finlayson, Ethan McGee, Jamie Mulgrew (captain), Ben Hall, Kirk Millar, Kyle McClean, Joel Cooper, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Chris McKee.

Substitutes: (used) Braiden Graham, Josh Archer, Matthew Clarke, Jordan Stewart; (unused) David Walsh (GK), Rhys Annett, Aodhan Doherty.