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Football: LARNE HAVE LAST LAUGH; BALLYMENA UTD............0 LARNE...........................1.

Byline: ALEX McGREEVY

UNFASHIONABLE paupers Larne upset the odds yesterday to reach a first Irish Cup Final for 16 years after shocking favourites Ballymena United at The Oval.

The club that has always survived on a shoestring budget is on the verge of grabbing its biggest ever cash windfall, after defying all expectations in this competition.

Mark Dickson's 59th minute match-winning penalty may prove to be worth around pounds 70,000 next season.

Even if Larne lose to Cup Final opponents Glentoran or Portadown, the club could be rewarded with a spot in the Setanta Cup and Uefa Cup next season.

They have goalkeeper Alex Spackman to thank for providing the passage to the Cup Final amid the tension yesterday. Spackman's heroics in goal, making a list of breath-taking saves throughout the game, will be recalled long after Larne make history in the Cup Final.

He made his first notable save in the 18th minute, turning Gareth Mullen's volley around his post.

He added to the list of amazing saves to prevent Gareth Scates, Gary Smyth, Matthew Nolan and Nigel Boyd, and even allowed his crossbar and post to get in on the act to help deflect the Ballymena onslaught.

Yet the spotlight-shy Belfast-man refused to take the plaudits afterwards.

He said: "I did my job, I am no hero. At times when it looked as though Ballymena would score, other things kept us in front, like my goalpost and my crossbar.

"It's satisfying to play like that but I am no different to Mark Dickson who did his job and the rest of the players who did what was asked of them.

"It was a tough game from start to finish but every time I made a save I said to myself, next ball, next ball, bring it on.

"We had to battle for this win in the end and we did that superbly.

"We can win this cup. We have proved that the cup is all about a one-off occasion, anything can happen.

"We were confident of beating Ballymena, why wouldn't we be confident of winning the cup?"

CAPTION(S):

MATT'S MY BOY: Larne's Matt Dickson celebrates his 59th minute winner
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Apr 3, 2005
Words:363
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