BetMcLean Cup

HISTORY MAKERS: PORTADOWN'S LEAGUE CUP STORY

09 Feb 2024
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© PressEye Gary McCutcheon celebrates scoring the winner in the 2008/09 final

When they come to write the definitive story of the League Cup there will be a compelling case for a chapter dedicated to Portadown and their exploits in the competition.

Two time winners and two time losing finalists, the Ports created history almost 15 years ago to the day by becoming not only the first club outside the top flight to reach the final but the first to actually go on and lift the trophy - and all at Shamrock Park will be hoping this season will be very much a case of history repeating itself.

Portadown enjoyed relative success during the early years of the competition, losing in the final of the second edition back in the 1987/88 season when a Sammy McQuiston finish saw Coleraine emerge victorious after extra-time at The Oval.

Under the guidance of the legendary Ronnie McFall, Portadown then went on to reach the semi-finals of four of the five following seasons, but they had to wait until September 1995 to get their hands on the trophy for the first time.

The Ports reached that final following a run of results that took them past Dundela, Ballymena United, Linfield (on penalties) and derby rivals Glenavon all without conceding a goal.

That set up a showdown with Crusaders at Windsor Park, a game that saw McFall's charges come out on top by the odd goal in three thanks to strikes from Garry Haylock and Robert Casey.

The deadlock was broken just five minutes after the break, however, when Peter Murray sent a cross over from the left which Peter Kennedy nodded on into the area for Haylock to sweep past Kevin McKeown.

Crusaders levelled through skipper Syd Burrows with just over ten minutes remaining but, four minutes after that, Martin Russell powered forward with the ball out of defence before laying it off for Casey, who had ghosted in down the right side of the area, to sweep across McKeown into the bottom left corner.

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Toasting the 1995/96 victory over Crusaders

Despite another three semi-final appearances in the four seasons that followed, the Ports had to wait until the 2008/09 campaign to reach the final again ... and this time they did so as a Championship club following their demotion the previous season for a late submission of their application to the newly formed IFA Premiership.

Perhaps fired up by a perceived sense of injustice, Portadown breezed past Ballymoney United, Larne, Cliftonville, Linfield and Glentoran enroute to the final.

Only Newry City stood between them and a history making success in the Mourneview Park decider - the first time the final had been taken out of Belfast.

It was a true Mid-Ulster affair but, in front of French legend and then UEFA President Michel Platini, it took a Scotsman - a certain Gary McCutcheon - to settle the tie with the only goal of the game when, after half-an-hour, he tucked the winner inside the far post past Andy Coleman after Wesley Boyle had nodded the ball on.

Twelve months later there was yet another run to the semi-finals, and another year after that Portadown reached the final once more, this time coming up against Lisburn Distillery.

Very much on top in the first half, Matthew Tipton fired the Ports in front just before the break with a stunning left-foot strike but, early in the second half, Scott Davidson levelled for the Whites before David Cushley struck the winner sixty seconds from time.

Since then, however, Portadown have failed to get past the quarter-final stage but given their progress thus far - accounting for Coagh United, Crusaders, Loughgall and Glenavon - plus their cup form elsewhere you could be forgiven for thinking that Niall Currie's men are on the verge of rekindling those glory days of old.

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Portadown face Linfield in this season's BetMcLean Cup final on March 10th at the National Football Stadium (kick-off 3pm). Have you got your tickets yet? Buy now at nifootballleague.com/tickets