Opinion: Cup final defeat shouldn’t be an end, but rather a beginning

When you walk past the Smithfield Arms and see a sheep sprayed in sky blue and white stripes, you know you’re in for a day that’s out of the ordinary.

Similarly, when you’re standing at Ballymena railway station and 500 Sky Blue-clad fans come hurtling up the slope onto the platform like a scene from the film Zulu, it’s not exactly an everyday occurrence.

Welcome to Irish Cup final day, Ballymena-style.

It was a day in which United fans ran the entire spectrum of emotions - pride, excitement, joy, despair, exhilaration and, ultimately, deflation.

From those remarkable scenes at the station to the agony of defeat - it was a day which will live long in the memory for all sorts of reasons.

It’s a question I asked quite a number of people over the weekend - setting aside the very obvious elephant in the room of the scoreline, did you enjoy the cup final day experience?

Some were able to say there and then that they did, while others said the result was the over-riding factor for them at present but I suspect that in a couple of days’ time, a lot of those people will look back and reflect that it was an enjoyable day.

It’s been said by many people over the weekend, if the performance of the players had matched the sparkle of the club’s supporters, the outcome might well have been different.

Let’s call a spade a spade; United’s performance on the day wasn’t good enough to merit winning the famous old trophy - you won’t find too many within the Ballymena camp who put forward a differing view.

It wasn’t the worst I’ve seen the Ballymena team play by some distance but, crucially, there just weren’t enough big performances from those players who Ballymena look to to turn games in their favour.

Gary Thompson’s challenge worthy of a red card? Never while Pussy’s a cat.

A truly mind-boggling decision, at a time in the match where you sensed that United might just go on to make the most of their numerical advantage caused by Gareth McKeown’s earlier dismissal.

That’s not a sky blue-tinted spectacles approach; anyone who knows me will know I would say the same if the roles had been reversed, When something’s wrong it’s wrong, no matter who’s doing it.

To look to the future, Ferguson has the vast majority of his cup final signed up for next season and, in several cases, beyond that.

The squad will not require the same root-and-branch rebuilding that has been the case in some close seasons in recent years.

Instead, it will require careful trimming on the manager’s part to bring in the necessary quality to replace the inevitable casualties - even more so now that the £90,000 of European money has disappeared into the ether.

Victory on Saturday might well have been the making of this United panel - both in terms of becoming more attractive to would-be signings and, more pertinently, in terms of having the financial wherewithal to get those deals over the line.

All is not lost, however, and there are still encouraging signs within Glenn Ferguson’s work in progress.

Ballymena’s players shouldn’t be looking at Saturday’s defeat as something which might never happen again.

Instead, they should channel the disappointment they felt into re-grouping and giving it another go next season - hopefully with a happier outcome.

It was good to see smiles on faces - from players, officials and supporters - at Saturday night’s function in the BT club.

Sitting around with faces like a wet weekend wouldn’t have changed the outcome of the match.

It was a relaxing end to a day and season which had taken United fans through more highs and lows than any rollercoaster - sure you wouldn’t have it any other way!