BetMcLean Cup


02 Mar 2023
© Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press

Throughout its history the League Cup final has never failed to turn up those moments to remember, talk about and reflect back on.

Even in the last decade the tournament has continued to provide us with the excitement and romance that we associate with, and hope for, from knockout football.

From Cliftonville's historic four-in-a-row era to Ballymena United's once in a generation success, then Dungannon Swifts' first ever major success to David Healy completing the full set of domestic trophies and the sheer nail-biting, heart breaking rollercoaster of emotions from last season ...

© Pacemaker Press Cliftonville celebate defeating Ards to lift the cup for the fourth year in a row

Cliftonville's four-in-a-row
Cliftonville's League Cup dominance around a decade ago will take many, many years to be emulated - if ever.

The Reds went undefeated from August 2012 until November 2016, a run that saw the trophy take up residence in the Solitude trophy cabinet for four successive seasons.

Under the guidance of legendary manager Tommy Breslin, Cliftonville swept to a four-goal defeat of north Belfast neighbours Crusaders in the 2013 decider with Diarmuid O'Carroll, Joe Gormley [2] and Ryan Catney all finding the net.

The sides met again almost a year to the day later with the Reds again emerging victorious, albeit in a much tighter affair that finished scoreless and had to be settled on penalties.

Fast forward 12 months, the 2015 final saw Cliftonville defeat Ballymena United by the odd goal in five.

Gormley had given them a comfortable two-goal lead at the break with a first half double but David Cushley's brace dragged the Sky Blues back into contention before, with ten minutes remaining, Martin Donnelly struck to ensure Breslin's men maintained their grip on the trophy.

Remarkably, the Reds were back again in early 2016 to make it a record breaking four-in-a-row. Now managed by Gerard Lyttle, they swept past Championship side Ards by three clear goals courtesy of finishes from Donnelly, David McDaid and Stephen Garrett.

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Ballymena United finally get over the line
When Ballymena United lifted the Irish Cup back in the early days of May 1989 few of the Sky Blue faithful could have envisaged that they'd be waiting well over a generation to get their hands on their next major trophy.

There had been a few near misses, and a couple of Co. Antrim Shield triumphs in recent years, but that feeling of claiming one of the three national pieces of silverware had eluded them.

That all changed at Seaview in February 2017 when all that stood between United and a first ever League Cup was Carrick Rangers.

Whatever happened that night there'd be a new name on the trophy. United had been losing finalists a couple of years earlier while, for the 'Gers, it was their first appearance in the decider.

In the end the Sky Blues came out on top with a goal at the end of each half. Popular Scotsman Allan Jenkins broke the deadlock a minute from the break with a low finish into the bottom corner past keeper Brian Neeson.

One goal is always the most slender of leads and Carrick did press hard in search of the equaliser in the second half but, a minute into stoppage time, United substitute Conor McCloskey settled Ballymena's nerves with an unstoppable 20-yard drive into the top corner.

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The Swifts make history
Ballymena United were back in the final a year later - as part of their run of four in five seasons - and were considered by many as favourites to retain the trophy at the expense of Dungannon Swifts at Windsor Park.

The Swifts, however, had other ideas. Apart from a number of Mid Ulster Cup victories over the years the Co. Tyrone had never lifted a major trophy. Indeed, their only previous appearance in a showpiece final had come a decade or so earlier with an agonising penalty shoot-out defeat in the Irish Cup.

The sides had met on two previous occasions during the 2017/18 campaign, both recording 2-1 wins at home, so there was little between them ahead of the big day.

Dungannon got off to the perfect start on the night, moving in front as early as the 11th minute courtesy of Ryan Mayse's drive in off the underside of the bar. United hit back quickly, however, after Leroy Millar crossed for Kyle Owens to head home from six yards out.

But two goals either side of the interval saw the Swifts power through to claim an historic victory.

Mayse restored their advantage on 37 minutes when he reacted quickest to the rebound after Ross Glendinning had done well to keep out his initial effort.

Then, ten minutes after the break, Cormac Burke effectively settled the tie with a curling finish into the bottom corner after Mayse had turned provider to create the opening.

© Pacemaker Press Match winner Andy Waterworth kisses the trophy

Waterworth winner sees Blues hit double figures
Linfield had been largely dominant during the early years of the competition, sweeping to no fewer than nine victories in addition to finishing runners-up on a further three occasions across a 21 season span.

But that last final appearance came back in 2008, heralding a long 11-year gap before they made the decider again.

The Blues reached the final with a narrow, extra-time defeat of outgoing holders Dungannon Swifts but had been free-scoring in the earlier rounds, hitting an average of five goals per game as Moyola Park, Institute and Portadown were swept aside.

Ballymena United lay in wait. For the Sky Blues it was their fourth final in five seasons although they had only managed just the one victory, so they were keen to avoid the bridesmaids tag once again.

Ballymena might have gone in front early on after a James Knowles effort took a deflection off an upright but, with just a quarter-of-an-hour on clock, Andrew Waterworth bagged what proved to be the only goal of the game with a composed finish after Josh Robinson's run out of defence had been instrumental in creating the opening.

United did create a host of chances as the game progressed, especially in the second half, but they couldn't find a way back as the Blues held on.

And although silverware is no stranger to Windsor Park, for boss David Healy it was a particularly significant success as Waterworth's early goal meant that the former Northern Ireland international had collected the full suite of domestic trophies in just over three years after stepping into the hotseat.

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Cliftonville stage remarkable comeback to break Coleraine hearts
Last season's final between Cliftonville and Coleraine will live long in the memory of anyone fortunate enough to witness it.

It was a remarkable game for so many reasons. A first ever Sunday final, a record attendance, seven goals, comebacks, late equalisers, agony, ecstasy, heartbreak, drama ... it really did have it all.

Goals from Matthew Shevlin and Stephen Lowry either side of the hour put the Bannsiders into a strong position until, with just over a quarter-of-an-hour of normal time remaining, Joe Gormley pulled one back for the Reds.

Even then, it looked like Coleraine had done enough only for Paul O'Neill to pop up in the 90th minute to equalise and force an additional half-an-hour.

Coleraine were reduced to ten men a couple of minutes into extra-time when, following an off the ball incident, James McLaughlin was shown a straight red card by referee Andrew Davey.

That proved to be the catalyst for the Reds to push on to secure the win. O'Neill doubled his tally on 104 minutes with a shot high into the roof of the net before, three minutes after that, victory was assured when Gormley also bagged his second of the game with a tap in.

Curtis Allen did add a third for Coleraine right at the end but by then there was no way back.

Will this year’s final match the heady heights of what has gone before? Can the Bannsiders exorcise the ghosts of 2022? Can the Blues make it victory number 11? Why not go along and find out for yourself? Buy now at