WESTBANK United’s name was etched on the Gilfillan Cup for a third time on St Stephen’s Day as the club avoided a major upset with a comfortable win over First Division side, HML at Wilton Park.
An early Sean Paul Downey goal failed to dampen the spirits of a battling HML.
However, Sean McCarron’s superb brace in the space of 14 minutes at the start of the second half was to decide this showpiece which was billed as a classic David v Goliath affair.
But there was to be no slaying of the Premier Division giants on this occasion and the gulf in class between the sides was evident from the outset.
Boasting a formidable three-pronged strikeforce in Downey, McCarron and former Derry City striker, Aaron Nash, Westbank had the all important cutting edge in front of goal.
And that ultimately proved the difference as they slowly began to dominate proceedings.
The club’s stature in the North West Saturday Morning League has grown significantly since its formation in 2005 and Robbie Mitchell’s side continue to sweep up the major honours on offer.
And Mitchell is hopeful this latest triumph can prove to be the springboard to further successes, including another Premier Division title this term.
“Hopefully we can challenge for the league title now again and we can concentrate on that now we have won this trophy, so I’m delighted,” said the Westbank boss.
“We have a bit of quality all over the pitch and we’re always confident we’ll get chances. “The boys we have up front can take them and that proved to be the case in the end.”
Westbank have contested four of the past five Gilfillan Cup Finals and the competition is always high on the agenda of the club’s management.
“It was comfortable enough in the end,” added Mitchell. “Both teams struggled with the surface. I think if we played it on a better pitch we could have done a lot better but we got on with it and got the right result.
“I think the early goal broke their hearts a bit. That’s exactly what they didn’t want to happen but it gave us a lift.
“I must give them credit because there hasn’t been many teams we’ve played that are still battling and in our faces after 60 or 70 minutes when we’re ahead.
“They were very impressive for a team that is a couple of leagues below.
“This is a competition we always want to win every season,” he continued.
“We always use the group stages of this cup for our pre-season and we got lucky enough with the draw.
“Once you make it through to the business end of the competition you always want to do as well as you can so I’m delighted to win it again.”
There was plenty of quality in the Westbank ranks and outstanding contributions from defenders, Marcus O’Kane and Kieran Toland kept the HML attack at bay.
At the other end, McCarron and Nash were proving a handful for the HML defence and the former dragged a shot just wide six minutes in.
HML responded when a long punt upfield was delicately steered into the path of James McLaughlin by George Green but the striker flashed his shot across goal and wide.
Green’s wayward pass two minutes later found its way to McCarron who was lurking on the edge of the area, and goalkeeper, Liam Nash needed to be at his best to put his shot behind.
HML were living on the edge and Mickey Porter came close with a header after the goalkeeper twice failed to punch clear.
Nash came to his side’s rescue on 24 minutes when Downey sent McCarron clear but the HML keeper saved well with his feet.
Finally Westbank managed to break down the HML barriers on 34 minutes.
HML defender, Gary Doherty was caught in possession by Nash who drove an inviting cross into the penalty area and Downey arrived at the back post to bundle the ball into the net.
At the start of the second half, McCarron really should’ve double Westbank’s lead from Lee Toland’s free-kick but he scuffed his shot tamely into the hands of the keeper.
The Finn Harps striker made amends on 56 minutes when he calmly side-stepped two defenders on the edge of the HML area before finding the corner of the net with a clinical left footed effort.
There was no way back for HML on 70 minutes when McCarron pounced for a second time. The excellent, O’Kane found Nash on the right wing and his cross eventually found its way to McCarron who rifled into the net with his right foot this time.
Credit to HML for battling on and Damien McNulty’s shot from 12 yards needed to be parried clear by Ryan McCloskey.
Lee Toland came close to adding a fourth for Westbank with a free-kick before HML substitute, Conor McCallion headed narrowly over with two minutes to go.
The comeback was never going to materialise and Westbank closed out the game as they lifted the trophy for a third time.
It was a professional and clinical performance from the Premier Division side as they maintained their impressive undefeated record this season.
Westbank United - Ryan McCloskey; Marcus O’Kane, Mickey Porter, Kieran Toland (Gary Nixon 88), Lee Toland; Sean Paul Downey (Johnny Hume 70), Aaron Harkin (Shane Dolan 84), Barry Downey (Christy Downey 75), Niall Grace; Sean McCarron, Aaron Nash (Kyle Curran 84); Sub Not Used - Kevin McQuaid.
HML - Liam Nash; Johnny McIntrye, Mark Doherty (Tom Huddleston 66), Ciaran Quigley, Gary Doherty; Ben Jackson, Conor Brady (Alan Grant 22), Damien McNulty, George Green (Emmett Coyle 55); Emmett Friel (Sean Doherty 69), James McLaughlin (Conor McCallion 78); Sub Not Used - Christy McCallion.
Referee - Sean Keenan.