A sensational four goal haul from Kevin Braniff saw Glenavon beat Crusaders 4-3 at Windsor Park on Friday night to reach the final of the Irish Cup.
What a drama filled tie this was - three times Gary HMamilton’s side came from behind and showed fantastic character to go on and winning in style.
Early pressure from the Crues ended with Ciaran Martyn getting yellow for challenge of Andrew Mitchell. From the free kick Johnny Tuffey did well to tip over a drive by Jordan Forsythe that was heading into the top corner.
Glenavon survived a series of corners and Fabio managed to carve out the first chance with a net turn away from Colin Coates but dragged his 18 yard shot wide.
The Lurgan Blues spurned a great chance to take the lead 14 minutes, a great ball in from Andy Hall flew to unmarked Kevin Braniff but his first time volley flashed wide of the gaping goal.
Another chance came on 119 minutes with Andy McGrory wining a 50-50 ball and striding forward he slipped the ball wide to Hall, he again delivered a peach of a cross, it beat Fabio and fell to Cooper whose shot hit off Fabio and went out.
On 23 minutes the Crues did get in behind with Jordan Owens hitting the side netting but a minute later Owens set up the opener with a nod down for Matthew Snoddy rifled the ball past Tuffey.
It didn’t take Glenavon long to get back on level terms on 27 minutes with Rhys Marshall making a great solo run, he ended up getting brought down but had played the ball on to Braniff who whipped a shot into the back of the net.
A great equaliser, but Glenavon went to sleep and within 60 seconds the Crues were ahead again with Matthew Snoddy lashed home a 20 yard shot.
The Crues continued to look dangerous with Forsythe whipping a ball across goal but Owens could not reach it.
Four minutes before the break Glenavon came close to levelling again with McGrory feeding Hall and his cross fell to Cooper who took a touch before getting away his shot but it was blocked by Snoddy.
The huge Glenavon support were singing again when Martyn poked the ball into the path of Braniff and he kept his cool as keeper Sean O’Neill charged out and he fired in his second of the game.
The second half burst into life with Glenavon having a big shout for hand ball after Cooper’s shot was blocked, referee Davey ignored those appeals and a few seconds later the Crues broke with sub Declan Caddell picking out Paul Heatley in the middle and his right foot shot flew past Tuffey.
This pulsating cup semi-final took another turn with Braniff snatching his hat-trick to make it 3-3 as his header flew past O’Neill on 53 minutes.
Cooper did well to find some space but as he tried to get to the byeline he was bundled over, from the free kick by Hall the Crues defence cleared.
On 68 minutes Glenavon made their first change with Mark Sykes coming on for Martyn.
The action continued with Owens running into space to connect with a piledriver but Andy Kilmartin made a great block to stop the ball from getting through.
It was Braniff who took centre stage again with his fourth goal of the game on 71 minutes - great work by Fabio on far side and cross drove home with quality.
Glenavon made their first change with Mark Sykes replacing Martyn and then not long after Mark Patton came on for Cooper.
The Crues lost their control of midfield but were still posing a threat as they delivered balls into the box for Owens but Simon Kelly and Dillon were solid. Tuffey was called into action when he stretched out his right boot to clear a fierce shot from sub Diarmuid O’Carroll.
As the time ticked away the pressure piled on from the Crues but the back line held firm and after three minutes of added time Glenavon had won a brilliant tie 4-3 and booked their place in the final.
Glenavon:Tuffey, Kelly, Dillon, Kilmartin, Marshall, Cooper, McGrory, O’Brien, Braniff, Martyn.
Subs: Hamilton, Elebert, Patton, Sykes, McGrath.