Sport Co Antrim Shield final: Paul Hardy reveals close bond shared by Larne's Ulster Cup team of 1987

23:30  01 december  2020
23:30  01 december  2020 Source:   belfastlive.co.uk

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The County Antrim & District Football Association Senior Shield (more commonly known as the County Antrim Shield ) is a football competition in Northern Ireland. The competition is open to senior teams who are members of the North East Ulster Football Association

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Paul Hardy believes Larne's Class of 2020 are ready to rewrite the history books in Wednesday night's ToalsBet.com Co Antrim Shield final.

Hardy was part of the last Larne team to win a senior trophy.

You have to date back to 1987 when the Invermen beat Coleraine 2-1 to lift the Ulster Cup.

Former striker Hardy scored the equaliser that night, after Ricky Wade had given the Bannsiders the lead.

Larne earned their win courtesy of a Nigel Quigley own goal, but little did they know their wait for another senior trophy would exceed 30 years.

"It is hard to believe that is Larne's last major trophy success," Hardy told Belfast Live.

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"I can remember the final quite clearly. We put in a great performance against a good Coleraine side.

"We had a very good team back then, and Coleraine had a very good squad. They wee flying at that stage.

"Coleraine had a bit of an internal bust-up over bonus money in the lead-up to that final and dropped a couple of their senior players including Marty Tabb.

"We were just delighted to be in a final. We were determined to make the most of it and that's what happened. The town was buzzing."

Hardy added: "It has been a drought since then, which is surprising. We were actually beaten in the 1987 Irish Cup final by Glentoran.

"It was a very good Glentoran team who beat us, Gerry Mullan with the goal. That was in May, before the Ulster Cup final.

"To be honest, I think if Paul Malone had kept that team together we could have won some more trophies."

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See more of Co Antrim & District Football Association on Facebook. The County Antrim & District Football Association (also known as the North East Ulster Football Asso ToalsBet.Com Co Antrim Shield Semi Final draw: Larne v Linfield Cliftonville v Glentoran.

a blurry image of a person: Paul Hardy scored in the 1987 Ulster Cup final © UTV Paul Hardy scored in the 1987 Ulster Cup final

Such is the bond of that Larne side, that Hardy says many of the players regularly stay in touch through a WhatsApp group.

"We all stay in touch to this day. We are all very good friends," he added.

"Unfortunately Davy Smyth is no longer with us, but most of the other players are in a WhatsApp group and there isn't a day goes by that we don't talk to each other.

"A lot of the lads stay in touch and chat on a regular basis. It is a close bond, and up until Covid we would have met up in town for a couple of beers and a chat.

"So it was a real team and we deserved to win the Ulster Cup that night.

"The place was buzzing. It was Larne's first senior final in many years, and it was great. Fans were able to savour a big win."

Larne have emerged as a top flight force over the past three years, winning the Championship title in 2019 and finishing in the top six in their Premiership return last season.

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Hardy credits much of the revival to chairman Gareth Clements and owner Kenny Bruce, whose investment has transformed Inver Park.

"For a while there things weren't that great, but now Gareth Clements is in and he has done a great job," former Ballymena United striker Hardy added.

"Kenny Bruce is also there, and since they both arrived Larne have been on the rise ever since.

"They are building Larne as a community club, and that filters down onto the pitch. The team work hard together.

"Even the coaching staff. You have Tiernan Lynch and his brother Seamus, you have Tim McCann. But you also have Gary Haveron and others who are all local guys.

"They have turned things around in a short space of time, since about 2017.

"Everything Kenny has said, he has delivered on. And he's not finished yet."

While Hardy's Larne were underdogs back in 1987, this season's side go into Wednesday's Shield final as favourites against Glentoran.

They have met once already this season, playing out a drab 0-0 draw at the Oval in the Danske Bank Premiership.

"Wednesday night sees two very good teams going head to head. I have to sway towards Larne for this one," he added.

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"Glentoran are just starting to gel and it takes time. Larne have been doing that for two or three years and you are seeing that come to fruition now.

"Glentoran are building, and they will be a force again. But it takes time for a team to build and gel.

"I know Mick McDermott says he doesn't want to play the final, but any manager wants to play finals and win trophies.

"Every manager and player wants to play in these games, no matter what they say in public. I wouldn't be falling for Mick's comments. That's all gamemanship. It's all rubbish.

"They will be trying to win a trophy, as will Larne. Winning a trophy will be a big step forward for Larne.

"They targeted top six last season and they did that. They could have finished higher if the season hadn't ended early.

"They will want a first trophy, and that could give them a platform for future success. A lot of managers have won the Shield first and gone on to achieve great things. Roy Coyle is just one that springs to mind, and look what he went on to win.

"Hopefully Larne can get the job done on Wednesday night. I think the way they're playing, they are scared of nobody.

"They move the ball quick and this final is on a 3g pitch which they will be well used to."

Larne v Linfield: Blues old boy Josh Robinson getting a buzz from chasing history at Inver Park .
"I won league titles at Linfield and Crusaders, but lifting the Shield with Larne was right up there"The seasoned centre back, who joined Tiernan Lynch’s men from Linfield in the summer, may have won four league titles with the Blues and Crusaders.

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