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Tuesday, 29th April, 2014

TODAY, we look back to the late 50s, when we lifted the Irish Cup for the third time in our history.
After a period of nearly twenty years with only one Irish Cup Final to show, which was lost to Glentoran 3-1 in 1950/51, the 1957/58 season saw another chance for the Club to lift the trophy.
1957 saw the appointment of Scottish born Alec McCrae as player-manager for the Braidmen. Having already played for seventeen years in professional football, Alec had never won a cup medal, despite appearing in several finals on the British mainland. He'd had spells with Hearts, Charlton and Middlesborough, before moving back Northwards to Scottish side Falkirk.
After five years at Falkirk they allowed him to move to Ballymena United on a free transfer in lieu of a benefit due to him. From the first time he pulled on his boots for his new side, there was rapid improvement. Such was his excellence, he guided the side to a third place finish in the Irish League, finishing behind winners Ards and runners-up Glenavon.
In the first round of the Irish Cup, Ballymena United defeated Dundela 5-0 at Ballymena Showgrounds. Dundela started brightly but after 15 minutes player-manager Alec McCrae played through Eddie Russell who fired into the far corner from a tight angle. Five minutes before the break Quinn lobbed the ball forward and Willie Forsyth latched onto the ball to fire home number two. Billy Cubitt's 25-yard drive on 58 minutes decieved all and creeped under the goalkeeper for the third. With six minutes remaining McGhee accepted a Russell pass to fire past Smyth in the Dundela goal. In the final seconds Egan's free-kick was fired home by Forsyth to seal the victory over the 'B' Division side.
The Quarter-Final, also played at home, saw Ballymena United beat Ards 3-1 on Saturday 1st March 1958. United stunned league leaders and Champions-to-be Ards, by taking the lead after only five minutes when Forysth rattled the crossbar and Jimmy McGhee dashed in to tap in the rebound. The lead only lasted a minute as Ards equalised when Humphries played Richardson through straight from the restart. After sustained home pressure Ballymena regained the lead on 69 minutes when McGhee finished well from Eddie Russell's cross. United's passage to the semi-final was sealed with 13 minutes remaining, when Hunter upended Egan in the penalty area and Tommy Lowry stepped up to fire home the resulting penalty.
The Semi-Final against Derry City took place at Solitude, and the light blues booked their place in the final with a 3-0 defeat, courtesy of goals from Lowry, McGhee and Egan.
So, Saturday 26th April 1958 saw Alec McCrae's men travel to The Oval for the final against Linfield, played in front of an approximate 24,000 spectators. Ballymena United won 2-0, thanks to goals from Jimmy McGhee and Eddie Russell, and Alec finally had the cup winners medal he'd been craving for years! They say "three's a charm" but this wasn't to be the case, as we were soon to find out.
Tomorrow, we'll take a look back at the 1980/81 Irish Cup.