Video: 'The greatest feeling ever' - Leaving cert student sparks chaotic scenes as Finn Harps are promoted
Finn Harps 2 Limerick FC 0
LEAVING CERT student BJ Banda says it was "an incredible feeling" to come off the bench and score the extra-time header which earned Finn Harps a place in the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division for the first time since 2008.
The 17-year-old is a Finn Harps hero after stepping up on a night of high drama at sold out Ballybofey to nod home a 117th minute cross from Damien McNulty just as the promotion-relegation playoff with Limerick seemed destined to go for the penalties.
"It's the greatest feeling ever in my young career," said Banda, a South African born striker who moved to Donegal as a child and dedicated his winner to his proud mother who was watching in the packed stands. He jumped into the crowd to share the moment with her after the final whistle prompted scenes of jubilation.
"I'm not a man to score many headers," he told Highland Radio. "It's an incredible feeling, I don't know what to say."
Banda only joined the Harps U19 side from Letterkenny Rovers midway through the season and was promoted to the first team squad by Ollie Horgan in recent weeks because he was short of bodies.
On a night of high drama in Ballybofey, the promotion-relegation play-off seemed to be headed for penalties before the teen intervened when he nodded home a Damien McNulty cross. A Michael Funston goal on 38 minutes lifted an already electric atmosphere at the rustic old ground.
Funston and his stablemate in the Harps midfield Raymond Foy chased down Patrick Kanyuka, who, under pressure, tried to pass back to goalkeeper Freddy Hall. However, the touch was too heavy and Funston scampered to try and pick up the loose change.
He managed to hook back towards to Limerick goal and although the ball was bundled clear, the senior referee's assistant Damien McGrath awarded the goal. Finn Park erupted.
It was a goal that had been coming. On 17 minutes, a combination of Hall in the Limerick goal and Shane Tracy managed to avert a Damien McNulty header and then, four minutes later, Hall had to save at full stretch from Foy. Martin Russell's Limerick side made their trek to the north-west with a 1-0 lead courtesy of a screamer from Shaun Kelly at the Markets Field on Monday night.
Last night, there was a huge let-off for Harps as Robbie Williams - from a free header following a Shane Tracy corner - saw the ball cannon off someone in blue and the hosts scrambled clear.
Although Limerick, who failed to win one of their first 21 games in the Premier Division all season and then turned in a remarkable last 12 games to avoid automatic relegation, they'd conceded 73 goals this term before the play-off lottery. Both sides didn't let their commitment level drop as they tired in the second half.
Harps' came closest to going in front in the tie when Foy flashed wide and Sean Russell, at the other end, blazed over four minutes from time. He was left free on the edge of the area 18 yards out after a pull-back was deflected his way. Extra-time produced no more goals and it looked to be headed for the dreaded shoot-out until Banda wrote himself into the club's history books.
Finn Harps - Gallagher; McNulty, P Mailey, Cowan; J Mailey, Foy, Harkin (McDaid 101), McNamee, Coll; M Funston (Crossan 96); McHugh (Banda 103). Limerick FC - F Hall; Kelly, Kanyuka, Williams, Tracy; Duggan; Clarke (Mann 110), O'Conor, Lynch, Turner; Faherty. Ref - Derek Tomney (Dublin)