Championship League Cup final
St James’ Swifts Ladies 3-2 Ballymena United 

ST JAMES’ Swifts secured a memorable League Cup success, defeating recently promoted Ballymena 3-2 in a dramatic and emotional game at the Blanchflower Stadium on Saturday night. 

Cathy Kelly put the Swifts ahead in the first half, before substitute Jenny Montgomery scored a superb equaliser in the second half. 

The Sky Blues were level for only a matter of minutes with Siobhan Bell restoring the West Belfast side’s lead in stunning fashion before Ella Copeland came off the bench to add a third. 

Michelle McDonald pulled one back deep into stoppage time, but it proved to be a consolation. 

Gemma Quigley’s side was playing their first game since the tragic death of their teammate Molly White, whose iconic number eleven shirt was hanging by the dugout during the rain-soaked encounter in East Belfast. 

The Swifts had the first opportunity of the evening just three minutes in, when Kelly advanced into the area and smashed a shot into the side netting. 

From that moment on it was Championship runners up Ballymena who started to carve out the better chances. Megan Henry missed a good opportunity to open the scoring on seven minutes, when she headed off target from Hannah Firth’s inviting left wing cross. 

Captain Firth then had a chance of her own on 22 minutes, but a good block prevented her from blasting a shot into the roof of the net. 

Some more good defending at the other end stopped Amy Johnston from scoring. The pacy winger raced onto a through ball from Bell, but a last-ditch intervention from Zoe Kilpatrick diverted the ball away from goal. 

Devine was called into action for the first time on 30 minutes as she produced a sprawling save to push Claire Shaw’s angled drive behind. 

Kelly broke the deadlock five minutes before the break, coolly sliding home into the bottom corner after bustling her way into the box and evading a number of challenges. 

St James’ raced out of the blocks in the second half in their search for a second goal, with Kelly’s stabbed effort just after the restart being turned behind by Devine before Shaw glanced wide from Bell’s teasing free kick. 

Devine again came to Ballymena’s rescue when she saved Bell’s rasping strike with her legs on 66 minutes with Kelly flicking wide from Shaw’s near post corner seconds later. 

The Sky Blues continued to carry a threat at the other end, especially after the introduction of Jenny Montgomery. She made an instant impact when she found Henry in the box just after coming on, but the striker flashed a shot wide of the far post. 

The game was beginning to open up more with Amber Dempster the latest to have an effort on goal saved by Devine, who could only parry as far as Kelly, who subsequently fired wide. 

St James’ were dealt a huge blow when the lively Montgomery equalised in the 74th minute, side stepping her marker before curling home a tremendous shot into the top corner. 

Yet, the Swifts once again showed great resilience, responding just two minutes later in equally stunning fashion. 

There seemed to be little danger to the Ballymena defence when captain Bell picked the ball up 25 yards from goal, but the diminutive playmaker produced a superb looping shot which sailed over Devine and into the roof of the net, to spark wild scenes in the packed St James end. 

Henry was still causing problems for the Swifts at the other end, without finding the target, as she bent a shot wide with 10 minutes remaining after weaving her way into the area. 

The Sky Blues would be left to rue that miss when substitute Ella Copeland marked her introduction with a goal on 81 minutes. The youngster showed great desire to get to Shaw’s low cross and tap home at the back post to give the Swifts a two goal cushion. 

Ballymena threatened to complete a remarkable comeback during ten minutes of injury time after numerous stoppages throughout the game. 

Another substitute, this time McDonald, got Ballymena back into the game, as her high first time finish from Henry’s cut back reduced the deficit to one goal. 

Montgomery then had a chance to double her tally and haul the Sky Blues level in the dying seconds, but Smyth deflected her effort away from goal as the Swifts held on for the win. 

There was a touching moment during the trophy presentation, with Molly’s brother, mother and father lifting the trophy, that performance and win certainly was for her.