Leroy Millar hopes to follow in the footsteps of legends when he captains Ballymena United in Saturday’s Samuel Gelston’s Irish Cup final with Crusaders at Windsor Park.
It is 33 years since the Braid club lifted the blue riband trophy when a cheeky Paul Hardy backheel sealed a 1-0 win over Larne at a sun-kissed Oval in 1989.
More than three decades have passed but Hardy and other key members of that squad, including captain Michael Smyth, are still revered at the Showgrounds.
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So too the likes of Graham Fox, who captained United to cup glory in 1981 and 1984, and Alec McCrae’s famous 1958 side that shocked Jackie Milburn’s Linfield in the 1958 final.
Millar, raised in the village of Cullybackey half a dozen miles outside Ballymena, is well aware of the history and folklore as the Sky Blues look to end 33 years of hurt.
“I’ve heard a lot about the 1989 final and I’m well aware that it’s been a long time since Ballymena won the Irish Cup,” said the dynamic midfielder.
“It would be extra special if we could end that wait on Saturday. If we could bring the trophy back to Ballymena, it would go down in history.
“If that’s extra motivation for us, so be it, but at the same time we shouldn’t need any added motivation going into an Irish Cup final.”
Millar, whose only winner’s medal with Ballymena came in 2017 when United beat Carrick Rangers in the League Cup final, is preparing for his second Irish Cup showpiece.
The 26-year-old featured in the 2020 final, played in front of only 500 fans due to Covid-19, but came out on the wrong end of a narrow 2-1 defeat to Glentoran.
“It was a surreal experience,” said Millar. “People talk about it being a blue riband event and it being one of the biggest days in the football calendar.
“It’s normally about being suited and booted and playing in front of a big crowd and it wasn’t that because of Covid. It was different, but it was a chance to win the Irish Cup.
“We were pipped in extra-time by the Glens, but hopefully we have learned from that experience and can put things right this year.”
Millar accepts Ballymena will have to be at their best to overcome a Crusaders side that finished fourth in the league and are odds-on favourites with the bookies.
“We haven’t looked out of place when we have played the so-called teams, but we know we’re not good enough to not be at our best,” he said.
“If we want to get the result we want on this kind of stage, we have to turn up.”
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