Sporting Advent Calendar #21: BJ Banda secures Finn Harps’ promotion in dramatic fashion

The 17-year-old South African born striker proved to be an unlikely hero

Finn Harps match winner BJ Banda swamped by fans at the final whistle. Photograph: Lorcan Doherty/Inpho

Finn Harps match winner BJ Banda swamped by fans at the final whistle. Photograph: Lorcan Doherty/Inpho

 

After six years in the First Division wilderness Finn Harps made a long-awaited return to the Airtricity League Premier Division with a play-off win over Limerick.

And, in typical League of Ireland style, there was an unusual story behind it. After losing 1-0 in the first leg at Markets Field, Harps needed something special in the return fixture 300 or so kilometres north.

Something special is exactly what they got. Michael Funston’s first half goal levelled the aggregate scores and, with neither team finding the net before the 90 minutes was up, sent the game to extra-time.

The additional period was typically tight with both teams looking jaded. But that was before 17-year-old South African-born BJ Banda replaced Kevin McHugh in the 103rd minute. Just months after playing for Harps in the Under-19s league in front of a handful of people, Banda rose high at the near post with three minutes left to power home a header and send the packed Finn Park into delirium.

The unlikely hero was immediately thrown into the spotlight as videos of his goal went viral. After generations of Harps fans had seen only small glimpses of a return to the glory years of the 1970s, a 17-year-old born thousands of miles away, but with a distinctive Letterkenny accent, had brought a night to savour in Ballybofey.

The celebrations went on long into the night, but for Banda it was a return to the Royal and Prior Comprehensive School classroom on Monday morning as he continues his Leaving Cert studies. It was a remarkable night in Donegal and, after a season which saw the problems of the league exposed in the Connolly Report, it was a night which showcased all that is good about the national league in this country.

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