When the calendar gives you a Steel and Sons Cup Final on Christmas Eve because Christmas Day falls on a Sunday, it would be rude not to take advantage of it, especially as the next opportunity to do so won’t fall until 2033.
Knowing this, I was keeping a very close on the results of this season’s competition.
Obviously, I was wanting Linfield Swifts to get to the Final again.
I hadn’t been keeping a close eye on the competition in recent years, as I was unaware that clubs from The Championship were taking part.
That meant that Bangor were probably the biggest club in the competition, so I was expecting them to be in contention for this Final.
As soon as Linfield went out, I was pinning my hopes on an Ards Rangers v Bangor Final, with this season being thirty years since North Down invaded Belfast for the Irish Cup Final.
It turned out that Bangor would get to the Final, but their opponents would be Dunmurry Rec. Now I would have to decide whereabouts in Bangor or Dunmurry I am from.
Bangor has a Pickie Pool, Jamie Mulgrew and is Steve Bruce’s Ancestral Homeland.
Dunmurry has, um, err …….
I purchased a ticket for the Bangor end but it turned out there was Unoffitcial Segregation in place, you could walkabout and stand or sit wherever you liked.
As I was attending as a Neutral, both teams had cases to support them.
Bangor had Lee Feeney as Manager, but Dunmurry, and I didn’t realise this until I saw it in the programme, had Noel Bailie’s son playing left midfield.
Naturally, he was wearing 11. He could hardly wear any other number.
I wasn’t the only neutral there. I saw many regular faces from Windsor Park, as well as hats and coats from Larne, Glentoran and Carrick Rangers.
And a Crusaders coat which was keeping Darren Murphy, who I spotted watching the game, warm. I guess he hasn’t been issued with a Finn Harps one yet, or that the saying that the sun always shines in Donegal is true.
I didn’t see Gary Lightbody though. I did see a much bigger star, who I thought would have been too busy today to attend a football match.
Santa Claus himself was there, or it may have been a man dressed as Santa.
Not that it mattered to a child who approached him thinking he was the real Santa, and now the supporter trying to watch in fancy dress was having to get into character.
We was a fair sport and was happy to pose for photos with the child and his dad.
This game had a lot to live up to after the World Cup Final last weekend. Dunmurry were hoping that Argentina would provide some inspiration.
Surely they were destined to be the second team in sky blue and white stripes to celebrate a trophy this week.
It would have been more appropriate if they were playing Linfield Swifts to make it feel like a proper rerun of last Sunday.
If you squinted your eyes slightly, you could have imagined this was Argentina v Brazil.
Bangor dominated the early stages of the game, with Jamie Glover having a shot which forced Dunmurry’s keeper into a save before Seanna Foster hit the bar a minute later. Bangor were out to get an early goal.
As the minutes went by, Dunmurry continued to frustrate Bangor. That was their plan. Their keeper wasn’t exactly being quick to restart the game when he had a free-kick or goal kick.
Bangor’s frustration was such, they were resorting to long range shots in the hope that one got lucky, but they never did.
A header from Michael Halliday fell perfectly for Adam Neale to smash home, until he saw Dunmurry’s keeper making himself big to make a save from point blank.
0-0 at half-time with Bangor being the better team, but unable to convert their possession into goals.
The focus on Bangor’s half-time teamtalk will have been to get those goals to win the game. Inside the opening minutes of the second-half, they were chasing the game.
A sloppy backpass presented an opportunity for Andrew Carberry to score, a low finish putting Dunmuryy 1-0 up with their first attempt of note on goal.
Standing at the side of the pitch not far from the dugouts, I could see a member of Bangor’s coaching staff going ballistic on the touchline.
Ben Arthurs came on for Michael Halliday and had a near instant impact, with an equaliser within a few minutes of coming on.
A shot fell perfectly for him, and he finished from a few yards out.
The goal from Dunmurry had jolted Bangor into life. They might have been better off scoring with two minutes to go rather than two minutes into the second-half.
The pressure continued as Bangor looked to take the lead.
That pressure was rewarded when Adam Neale headed in a cross from close range to make it 2-1.
It was hard to see Dunmurry come back from this, even though they still had twenty minutes to retrieve the situation.
Naturally, their keeper was hurrying up with goal kicks and free-kicks, to ironic cheers from the Bangor support.
As injury time approached, Bangor had a glorious opportunity to clinch the game when Reece Neale won possession and found himself through on goal, and dinked the ball over the keeper.
Just as he was getting ready to celebrate, the ball agonisingly hit the post and went out for a goal kick.
If Dunmurry get an equaliser and then win the game in extra-time or on penalties, that would be the moment that Bangor fans would be reliving in their nightmares for years to come.
The need for a goal prompted Dunmurry to bring their keeper up for set pieces, to more ironic cheers from the Bangor support.
That sort of sarcastic taunting was asking for trouble. It was all set up for him to silence them with a dramatic equaliser.
Not quite, but a robust foul on him did cause a bit of a rammy.
Bangor survived the inevitable late Dunmurry to win the trophy, as they look to kick on and secure promotion to The Championship.
Much as been made of the size of the crowd and suggestions have been made that this game should be moved to Christmas Even in future.
I’ll admit that the match being on Christmas Eve rather than Christmas Day tempted me to go. I’d definitely be up for it. As stated earlier, I wasn’t the only neutral there.
However, there are other factors.
The most obvious one was that Christmas Eve fell on a Saturday this year. It’s still a working day for a lot of people.
Even if you are lucky enough to be let out early, you’re not going to make a 10.45am kick-off.
Also, the biggest team in the competition reached the Final. Bangor were always going to bring a decent size support for a Steel and Sons Cup Final.
2023 leaves room to work with as Christmas Day falls on a Monday.
You could play the Final on Saturday 23rd, with there still being enough time for people to travel to 3pm games that day.
Or you could play it on Christmas Eve, a Sunday. It’s worth testing the water when the calendar falls this way.
If it works, you’ll only have to wait until 2028 for the dates to fall this way again.
2023 or 2033, who knows when my next Steel and Sons Cup Final will be. Bangor will be hoping to be in too high a League to be competing for it by then.