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In the nick of Tom

Thomas Maguire says Manager Paddy McLaughlin asked him to go on and make a difference when he introduced him from the bench after 81 minutes of last night’s County Antrim Shield Final.

By that stage, Cliftonville had been trailing 1-0 to Ballymena United for almost half an hour and were struggling to create the openings that might have forced a route back into the contest.

In the sixth minute of injury-time, however, Maguire showed lightning-fast reactions to seize upon the ball and stroke home from close range after Sky Blues keeper Jordan Williamson had failed to keep hold of Conor McMenamin’s low drive.

That strike looked set to send the tie to Extra Time, only for the Reds to complete their stunning turnaround just 85 seconds later.

Maguire – who scored his first goal for the Club in the New Year’s day victory over Glenavon before registering an Irish Cup double against Hanover – was involved again, supplying the cross that eventually found its way to fellow substitute Ryan Curran, who found the bottom corner with a cool finish.

“I’d been waiting so long and trying so hard to get my first goal and I knew I had to get it soon, so it’s been a decent couple of weeks for me,” said Maguire.

“It was such a great feeling to put the ball in the net and turn around and see our fans celebrating. It’s an indescribable feeling, actually – I didn’t really know what to do or where to run. It was probably relief more than anything else but for us to then go and get the winner so quickly was unbelievable.”

The 20-year-old admits to personal disappointment in his performance as a starter in Saturday’s Danske Bank Premiership defeat to Carrick Rangers but says boss McLaughlin reassured him he had full faith in the former Rotherham youngster’s ability to rescue the Reds last night.

“I’ve generally done well coming off the bench and making an in impact as a sub and that’s a role Paddy has spoken to me about,” he adds.

“I got a start against Carrick but, to tell the truth, it didn’t really go my way on the day and didn’t go the team’s way either but all I can do as a sub is make sure I do the best that I can when I come on, hopefully earn myself more starts and make the most of them when they come along.

“Paddy just said ‘We need you here’ and asked me to go on and make the difference for us. I just tried to get on the ball as much as I could and try to get us forward. When the ball fell for me, I knew I couldn’t miss it because that was probably going to be our last chance.”