Scottish Junior Cup: Glenafton Ath 0-3 Hurlford United

Hurlford United's delighted players begin the celebrations after winning the Barr Scottish Junior Cup at Rugby Park yesterday. Picture: SNS
Hurlford United's delighted players begin the celebrations after winning the Barr Scottish Junior Cup at Rugby Park yesterday. Picture: SNS
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HURLFORD United completed a Scottish Cup double for the East Ayrshire village, adding the Barr Group Scottish Junior Cup to the Scottish Amateur one – won last month by Hurlford Thistle – in a Rugby Park final, which was over as a contest when Glenafton were reduced to ten men and two goals down after half an hour.

Scorers: Hurlford United - Kean (2 pen, 30 pen) McKenzie (80)

So, Glenafton’s Ayrshire curse continues. This is the fourth final they have lost, each time beaten by another Ayrshire club, with United joining Irvine Meadow, Auchinleck Talbot and Largs Thistle in having lowered Glen’s colours on the biggest stage. In truth, after going a goal down inside three minutes, then having Ryan McChesney – the only Novacumnockian in their ranks red-carded, they were never going to win this one.

Three times they have played Hurlford this season and they have yet to score a goal – a statistic which surely justifies Hurlford manager Darren Henderson’s controversial decision to switch from the Glen to United just before the season started.

“I absolutely loved Glenafton, and had two great years there, winning promotion and the West of Scotland Cup, but I am absolutely chuffed with today’s result,” said Henderson.

“I inherited a good set-up here, the players I brought have added quality and I am delighted with today’s outcome. These guys are now legends in the village, even the five guys who didn’t make the squad.

“There is depth here, and I am looking forward to another crack at the senior Scottish Cup next season.

“We maybe got the breaks today with the two penalties, but I thought we were the better team and deserved to win – we will have some party tonight,” Henderson continued.

Stewart Kean, whose two first-half penalties put the game out of Glen’s reach, was naturally happy.

“I thought we deserved to win it, and after the second, and with ten-men, I couldn’t see them coming back. I just stayed calm and hit them, This is a brilliant result for the village.”

Tommy Bryce, the disappointed Glenafton manager had few complaints. “The second penalty killed the game,” he said.

“I understand from TV pictures there was no contact for the second penalty, but for the first one, I thought Ryan McChesney gave the referee the opportunity to award it. The boys gave their all, we did have a couple of chances, but it wasn’t to be.

“However, we can build on this next season.”

The game had an explosive start, with McChesney fouling Ross Robertson inside the Glenafton box in three minutes. From the stand, it seemed Robertson, who was heading away from goal, went down very easily, and it probably wasn’t a challenge McChesney needed to make.

Kean fired home the spot-kick via goalkeeper Brian McGarrity’s right-hand post.

It was the same story on the half-hour, McChesney appearing to send Robertson tumbling right on the edge of the box. Some thought the tackle was outside the area, but referee Colin Steven, who had an inconsistent game, looked to his linesman, then gave the penalty, before sending off McChesney on a straight red, for denying Robertson a goalscoring opportunity.

Kean won the mind game this time round, again firing to the ’keeper’s right, while McGarrity dived left. If anything, the second spot-kick was even better than the first, and even the most-commited Glen fan sensed then, it was game over.

Glen did have a couple of second-half chances, through Aaron Connolly, but it was Hurlford who scored the only goal from open play, when Paul McKenzie, one of the players who followed manager Henderson from Glenafton to Hurlford during pre-season, headed home a corner from the right in 80 minutes.

This was no less than they deserved. Glen ’keeper McGarrity had saved his team from a real hammering with a clutch of terrific saves, although he had no chance with Kean’s two clinically-taken penalties.

Hurlford boss Henderson commented that his men did nothing the easy way. That was maybe true of their progress to the final but on the big day they had few problems.

While it wasn’t the greatest final in recent years, the early sending-off undoubtedly played a part in that.

Twenty years ago, Glenafton, under manager Alan Rough, were the glamour team of the junior game, as they appeared in three successive finals. Back then, Hurlford went two seasons without winning a game, so their turnaround in fortune is testimony to the enthusiasm and hard work of their committee men over the years.

Some of them, such as the late John McMurtrie, one of the great junior officials, are no longer with us. That is a pity as they would surely have enjoyed the greatest day in the club’s 75-year history. A day which will live long in local legend.

As for the losers, how they would have loved to have replaced the “Plook On The Plinth” – which marked New Cumnock as Scotland’s most-dismal community – with the magnificent Scottish Junior Cup.

Sadly for the loud and enthusiastic Afton Army, on the day – as throughout this season – Hurlford were just too strong for them.