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Four-goal Hale the toast of Larne after ‘supersub’ act secures European football

Ronan Hale climbed off the substitutes’ bench and booked Larne seats on the plane to European football with a dream four-goal tally in a fightback for a win worth over £200,000.

On a night of high stakes and high drama, Hale hit home two penalty kicks before an extra-time brace as Larne turned the tables after Glentoran raced clear by 2-0 at the Oval.

The Irish League season’s final fixture proved a sensational full stop...but with the Larne journey now to continue into a summer run of European commitments.

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In contrast, the Glens must now attempt to rebuild from the pain of finishing 4-2 down from 2-0 up.

Ronan Hale (left) scored all four goals as Larne battled back from 2-0 down to defeat Glentoran by 4-2 and secure success in the European play-off final. Pic by PressEye Ltd.

Conor McMenamin was in sparkling form across the early stages of a night to remember and attacked down the left before delivering a teasing cross which Shay McCartan came close to converting.

Moments later, McMenamin broke the deadlock on nine minutes with a back-post header to cap strong work by Rory Donnelly as the latter sent over a looping cross from right after his initial ball was blocked.

The Glens pushed forward and Marcus Kane’s attempt was deflected wide before an enforced substitution for the Oval visitors resulted in Lee Bonis’ exit due to injury and the introduction of Davy McDaid.

And McDaid came close to an immediate impact when he poked the ball just past the post.

The experienced striker was quickly back at the heart of the action by, once again, creating problems in behind the Glens defence and goalkeeper Aaron McCarey raced to the edge of his area. McDaid appeared to meet the ball first then collided with McCarey but, with players covering, referee Raymond Crangle waved play on despite Larne appeals for a foul.

Jay Donnelly was left frustrated by the crossbar early in the second half with a superb header off Bobby Burns’ excellent cross but he made his mark for the 30th time this season by drilling in a superb angled shot to cap a slick Glens counter-attack and sliderule McCartan pass.

With the Glens enjoying a 2-0 lead, the Larne response produced an unlikely turn-and-hit volley by defender Kofi Balmer which bounced off the post.

The tie turned on 73 minutes with a string of talking points in quick succession.

The hosts had a penalty shout waved away as goalscorer Donnelly raced from deep towards the Larne target and into the box before going down under pressure from two away players.

Larne immediately pushed forward and referee Crangle awarded a penalty at the end of the attack - delivering a red card to Patrick McClean for holding on McDaid in the box, with Hale having his initial spot-kick strike saved by McCarey before tucking away the rebound.

The high drama continued as Larne proved close to an equaliser off one corner-kick delivery before the subsequent follow-up set-piece from the opposite flank led to another penalty kick after McCarey’s challenge on McDaid in competition for the loose ball in the box.

Hale made no mistake with an assured low strike to level the play-off final.

The final moments of normal time featured opportunities for Larne to settle affairs before the final whistle.

McCarey made a save off Hale’s strike from distance and Dean Jarvis turned the ball back into the box but it lacked a final Larne touch.

McCarey was then in the right place to collect John Herron’s close-range header off a deep Balmer throw-in.

The Larne pressure against 10-man Glentoran continued over extra-time as Herron had another header bounce off the bar.

Yet another Larne attempt hit the frame of the goal when Hale’s speculative strike deflected off both uprights.

However, Hale had the final say to send Larne back into Europe on a thrilling night to close out the Irish League season.

He handed Larne a first lead of the night by cutting inside and curling a low shot inside McCarey’s left-hand post.

With the final kick of the clash, he closed the game out with a spectacular fourth for the forward and his club.

The Glens’ final throw of the dice included McCarey joining his outfield team-mates in the home penalty area but a loose ball dropped for Hale and, from a position just yards outside his own side’s box, he fired towards the gaping goal and it rolled over the line for a dramatic memorable finish to a dramatic memorable European play-off final.

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