Larne stormed their way into next season’s UEFA Conference League thanks to a stunning Ronan Hale four goal salvo against Glentoran in the European Playoff Final on Friday night.
The home side had raced into an early ninth minute lead when Rory Donnelly lofted a superb cross to the back-post and Conor McMenamin rose above defender Tomas Cosgrove to nod home from close range.
One of the biggest talking points of the first half came on 27 minutes when Larne forward David McDaid was upended when through on goal by Glens goalkeeper Aaron McCarey, but referee Raymond Crangle waved play on despite the Invermen’s protests.
Larne continued to press in the first half and were unfortunate to go into the break still a goal behind – as they made a double change at the break to change the dynamics of a tense playoff tie.
It was Glentoran that came out of blocks flying in the second half, and only moments after Jay Donnelly had gone close with only the crossbar stopping him – the Irish League’s top scorer bagged the home side’s second goal. Shay McCartan broke through the midfield in a fast flowing move and slid the ball exquisitely to Donnelly who slotted under Ferguson.
The Invermen were given a lifeline on 75 minutes when David McDaid was fouled by Patrick McClean in the penalty area, which resulted in a straight red card for the home defender. Ronan Hale seen his initial penalty effort saved by McCarey, but he poked home the rebound to set up a frantic final 15 minutes.
Hale marked an unbelievable turnaround with just seven minutes remaining as he bagged a second penalty after Aaron McCarey fouled McDaid to send the game into extra time.
With the wind in their sails, Tiernan Lynch’s Larne were undone by the woodwork twice in the first period of extra time but eventually Hale did bag his hat-trick on 100 minutes, placing a fine effort out of the reach of the outstretched Glentoran goalkeeper.
An amazing season ended with one of the most remarkable goals of the campaign in stoppage time as Ronan Hale capped an astonishing substitute appearance by launching a long range effort from outside his own penalty box and with the Glentoran goalkeeper and defence pushed forward, the ball trickled over the line for the final action of the game.
Glentoran: McCarey, Kane, Burns, McCartan, Marshall, J. Donnelly, R. Donnelly, McClean, McMenamin, Powers, Cole subs Bigirimana (not used), Clucas (replaced McCartan 65), O’Connor (not used), Crowe (replaced R. Donnelly 76), Cushnie (not used), Plum (replaced McMenamin 65), Glendinning (not used).
Larne: Ferguson, Balmer, Kelly, Sule, Randall, Doherty, Scott, Lynch, Bolger, Bonis, Cosgrove subs Devlin (not used), Herron (replaced Sule 46), Hale, McDaid, Mitchell (replaced Herron 112), Hughes (replaced Lynch 46), Jarvis (replaced Doherty 70).
Referee: Raymond Crangle