Behind three times in a thrill-a-minute semifinal four goals from Man of the Match Kevin Braniff saw the Lurgan Blues through to the Final for the second time in two years. Is it an omen that the last time we won the trophy in 2014 it was after defeating Crusaders in the semifinal?
For Glenavon, Joel Cooper and Andy Kilmartin return to the starting lineup with Mark Patton and Mark Sykes joining Gary Hamilton, David Elebert and goal keeper James McGrath on the bench.
Johnny Tuffey pulled off a superb save in the 4th minute, tipping Jordan Forsyth’s free kick over the Barr as it looked destined for the top corner.
Kevin Braniff missed the first clear opening of the game after 14 when he poked wide from 6 yards as Andy Hall’s super cross picked him out at the far post.
Crusaders went ahead in the 24th minute when Jordan Owens headed down a cross from the right and Matthew Snoddy slid in from close range.
Braniff more than made up for his earlier miss with a wonderful curling effort from the edge of the box after a superb run by Rhys Marshall who slipped the ball to the striker just as he was tripped.
The Glenavon joy was short lived when Snoddy struck again a minute later to restore the Crues lead.
Four minutes before the break parity was restored again when Ciaran Martyn cleverly slipped a pass to Braniff who took a couple of strides before drilling the ball under O’Neill to make it 2-2.
At the start of the second half, seconds after Glenavon had claims for a handball in the Crues box ignored by the Ref, the Shore Road outfit broke down the right with sub Declan Caddell crossing for Paul Heatley who fired home from 8 yards to put them back in front for the third time in this pulsating semifinal.
Kevin Braniff competed a superb hatrick in the 53rd minute when he headed in Andy McGrory’s cross at the far post to level the scores yet again.
It was that man Braniff again in the 71st minute with his 4th goal of the night to put Glenavon in front for the first time. Fabio outmuscled Josh Robinson out on the right, turned infield and crossed to the centre of the box were hit-man Braniff volleyed to the bottom corner.
Crusaders: O’Neill, Magowan, Coates (c), Robinson, McClean, Forsythe, Snoddy, Mitchell, Heatley, Whyte, Owens. Subs: McKibbin (GK), O’Carroll (Owens 75), Clarke, Holden (Magowan 81), Caddell (Snoddy 46).
Cautions: Robinson 69
Glenavon: Tuffey, McGrory, Kelly, Dillon, Marshall, Halll, Kilmartin, Martyn (c), Cooper, Braniff, O’Brien. Subs: Patton (Cooper 80), Sykes (Martyn 68), Hamilton, Elebert (Kelly 87), McGrath (GK)
Cautions: Martyn 2, Dillon 21
Referee: Andrew Davey