Teenager BJ Banda writes his name in Finn Harps history books

South African-born striker’s extra-time goal sends Donegal club back to Premier League

Finn Harps’ BJ Banda is swamped by fans at the final whistle after his goal secured Premier Division football for the Donegal club in their play-off against Limerick at Finn Park in Ballybofey. Photograph: Lorcan Doherty/Inpho/Presseye

A South African-born teenager has become an unlikely hero for Donegal League of Ireland club Finn Harps following his dramatic extra-time goal against Limerick that earned them promotion to the top flight of Irish soccer on Friday night.

A couple of months ago, he was playing on a weekly basis in front of handful of people in the SSE Airtricity Under-19 League. Few people knew much about him.

Now 17-year-old BJ Banda has been catapulted into the sporting headlines and overnight has become a household name in Donegal.

He will go down in the history books as the player whose goal ensured promotion for a Finn Harps side that are back in the Premier Division for the first time since 2008.


His wonderful header, with just four minutes to go at the end of the second period of extra time, helped Harps to a 2-0 win over Limerick on the night, and 2-1 on aggregate.

A video of his goal soon went viral.

The lanky striker with his distinctive hairstyle has spent over 12 years in Donegal. He has effectively grown up in Ireland, and his Letterkenny accent is totally removed from his South African background.

“I really don’t know what to say, I had so many emotions running through me, I just had to rush straight to the crowd. It was unbelievable,” he beamed afterwards.

So often in football , it’s about getting the breaks and being in the right place at the right time.

He only made his debut for Harps back in September and the second-leg against Limerick was only his sixth appearance.

But with regular forward Nathan Boyle out through injury, Banda was very much part of the plans.

And when the opportunity called, he certainly seized it.

“I don’t think he knows the impact his goal has had on people,” his father Billy commented. Older fans were hugging each other after the final whistle; some were holding back the tears. Harps, not least because of their geographical isolation, have always had added disadvantages in trying to compete in the League of Ireland. Moments like this were to savour.

The club’s greatest moment was winning the FAI Cup back in 1974, but that is now a distant memory. A couple of generations have grown up, seeing only fleeting stays in the Premier Division and the majority of time in the far from glamorous First Division.

But in a county which is a hot-bed of soccer (aided by the iconic figures of Packie Bonner, Shay Given and Seamus Colman), there is a real thirst to see Harps playing at a higher level again.

BJ’s father, who is a community activist in Letterkenny – he stood in the last local elections for People Before Profit – has seen how much the result means to so many people. It was the big topic of conversation today in Letterkenny where they live.

And he points out that the ambitious BJ “wants to play for Ireland”.

Maybe BJ is following in the sporting footsteps of his father who, at one time, prior to being injured, had harboured ambitions of playing professional soccer. He did manage to play semi-professional basketball.

Who knows what is now in store of BJ? One of the first tasks for Harps will be to ensure that they give him a contract for next season.

But on Monday, it will be back to classroom for the Leaving Certificate student as he goes to the Royal and Prior Comprehensive School in Raphoe – and where his team-mate, defender Keith Cowan, once excelled in the main sport there – hockey.

Banda's late, late show really was film-script material. He was the last throw of the dice from manager Ollie Horgan, being the final substitute for Harps and replacing a player who already has legendary status on Finnside, 35-year-old captain Kevin McHugh. One of the top 10 goalscorers in League of Ireland history, McHugh previously announced that this season was to be his last.

Whether it is remains to be seen. But it may have been a case of one legend trooping off the pitch for the last time being replaced by another striker whose journey is only just beginning.