Tiernan McNicholl cemented his place in Carrick Rangers history with a late goal against Glenavon that sent Aaron Callaghan’s men into a first-ever League Cup final appearance.
Callaghan and Paul Millar, his opposite number in the home dug-out due to Gary Hamilton’s suspension, first met as young professionals living close together in England and the former claimed the upper hand over his old friend thanks to McNicholl’s composed finish.
McNicholl danced his way into the danger area on 80 minutes to slot a shot beyond James Taylor and light up a semi-final that failed to spark into life overall.
McNicholl had a chance deflected wide inside the opening moments. TJ Murray battled inside the box then stabbed the loose ball goalwards but Taylor was on hand to collect.
Glenavon’s first significant attempt arrived on 34 minutes as a Kevin Braniff flick was connected by Eoin Bradley from distance, with Brian Neeson alert to the danger.
McNicholl’s delightful pass cut open the Glenavon backline but Daniel Kelly’s clipped effort over Taylor dropped wide of the post.
Glenavon attacked after the interval and Braniff released Andy Hall along the inside-right channel, with the winger’s cross connected on the run but Mark Sykes’ touch lacking power at close range.
A surging run from the halfway line by Joel Cooper offered hope of a goal but his final pass towards the supporting Eoin Bradley was intercepted on the edge of the box.
Braniff’s growing influence led to a neat exchange with Bradley and floating cross which Cooper steered back towards the net with a looping header that Neeson back-tracked to gather.
Andy McGrory was sharp to block on the line when Martin Murray’s corner-kick was connected by Paddy McNally.
Cooper then flashed a low cross towards the back post that proved beyond a sliding Braniff.
James Singleton then forced Neeson into a fine fingertip save to push out under pressure the header off Cooper’s corner-kick.
Chris Morrow’s introduction off the sidelines almost produced a dream start when he connected with Martin Murray’s cutback pass but Taylor blocked the shot.
Hamilton had plenty of company from managerial colleagues in the directors’ box as Cliftonville’s Gerard Lyttle and Dundalk’s Stephen Kenny looked on.
GLENAVON: Taylor, Lindsay, Marshall, Cooper, Bradley (O’Brien, 83 mins), Hall, Sykes, Marron, McGrory (Martyn, 83 mins), Braniff (Moorhouse, 83 mins), Singleton. Subs: Neill, Elebert.
CARRICK RANGERS: Neeson, Chapman, McCullough, Rice, Surgenor, McNally, Taggart, M.Murray (Lavery, 88 mins), McNicholl (Hanley, 90 mins), TJ.Murray (Morrow, 77 mins), Kelly. Subs: Wilson, Foster.
Referee: Steven Taylor.