Ballymena United’s new captain Josh Kelly out to put Irish Cup Final ghosts behind him and repay manager David Jeffrey’s trust

Ballymena United’s new captain Josh Kelly is still haunted by May’s Irish Cup Final defeat to Crusaders.

idfielder Kelly, who limped off in the 82nd minute of the showpiece decider, could only watch on in horror as the Sky Blues conceded an added-time equaliser from Josh Robinson and a late extra-time winner by Johnny McMurray.

The Comber native believes the harrowing defeat can be used as fuel for success this season.

“I’m still not over it!” he said.

“It’s the worst way possible to lose a football match. To concede an equaliser in the 90th minute and a winner in the 120th minute is just the stuff of nightmares. I’ve never experienced anything like it, and it’s still very raw.

“We were very unlucky, but no-one will remember that in a few years’ time.

“I think all we can do is use it as fire for this season. We’re all desperate to get into another cup Final and go one step further, as we’ve had too many disappointments in cup Finals in recent years.”

Last term, David Jeffrey’s side finished in eighth place in the Danske Bank Premiership. Kelly is convinced that the Sky Blues can sneak into the top six this term, despite remaining a part-time club.

“As the years go by the league just gets stronger and stronger. We’re not afraid of the full-time teams,” he expressed.

“You’ve two options. You can cry about it, or you can roll your sleeves up and take them on. I’d rather take them on.

“Our aim this season is to finish in the top six, and if you do that then you’ve a great chance of qualifying for Europe.”

Kelly (23) has replaced Larne-bound Leroy Millar as the club’s skipper. He wants to repay the faith Jeffrey has shown in him by helping the Showgrounds club climb up the league table.

“It’s a massive privilege. It’s a huge honour to be named captain of a big club like Ballymena. I had a fair idea it was coming once I heard Leroy was leaving, as I was the vice-captain last season, but it was still an honour.

“To have the trust of a man like David Jeffrey means a lot to me. Now it’s up to me to return his faith in me by leading the team.

“At the same time, I know I won’t be on my own because there’s plenty of leaders in our dressing room. I may be a young captain, but there’s a good support network of experienced players in there to help me.”

On Saturday, United kick-start their season with a home game against Gary Hamilton’s Glenavon. In recent years the two clubs have been evenly-matched.

Looking ahead, Kelly said: “It’s going to be a tough game. It will be blood and thunder as there is not much between the two clubs and like ourselves, Glenavon will be targeting a top six finish. 

“It would be great to get the season off to a good start with three points. And you never know how valuable those three points might prove to be come the end of the season.”

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