Challenge Cup Final: Belfast Giants upset formbook in Cardiff triumph

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Highlights: Giants overcome Devils to win Challenge Cup

It was a victory to savour for the Belfast Giants.

They went into Sunday night's Challenge Cup Final against the Cardiff Devils, in the Welsh capital by the way, as clear underdogs.

Their recent form had seen their Elite League title hopes disappear while the Devils will clinch the championship sometime in the next few weeks.

But it's why we all love sport because if all these contests were foregone conclusions then there would be no reason to turn up and watch.

And what a game it was…

The Ice Arena in Cardiff was full to capacity dominated by passionate Devils fans and a small by raucous enclave of around 600 Giants supporters, some of whom had taken a 10-hour coach journey down through the heart of the Arctic UK just to watch their team.

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Challenge Cup success 'huge' says Belfast Giants coach Adam Keefe

Ferocious Cardiff contest

From the singing of 'Land of Our Fathers' all the way to the final hooter it was as loud a building as anywhere in the Elite League matched by a ferocious contest on the ice between the top two sides in the country.

The Devils are built to intimidate the opposition with a brand of physical hockey that has seen them become the dominant side in the league.

The Giants have speed and guile and in Ryan Martinelli, Spiro Goulakos and David Rutherford, three players who as the game went on began to get under the skin of the home side - wind-up merchants, is how the fans would refer to them.

The Devils dominated the first period but led only 1-0, the rest of the game belonged to Adam Keefe's side but how they had to battle for every puck.

If you had Brandon Benedict, John Kurtz and Matt Towe in the office pool to score three of the Giants' six goals you would have made a lot of money but this was the ultimate team performance. Egos were checked in the locker room.

Motivated Murphy stars for Giants

By the time Towe scored the fourth goal early in the final period the Giants led 4-2, then it became 5-2 when Darcy Murphy netted.

He's a player who visited Belfast for the first time just over two years ago as a member of the Colgate University team that played in the first NCAA Friendship Four tournament. Murphy made contact with the Giants saying how much he'd like to come and play for the team. He's now a 20-goal scorer.

Jonathan Ferland added the coup de grace - his second goal of the game made the final score 6-3.

Let the celebrations commence.

However as the champagne flowed there was also a collective sigh of relief.

When you average over 4,800 fans per game, the bar is set high.

Kevin Raine is about to clear the danger for the Giants in Sunday's final
Kevin Raine helped Belfast Giants earn their first trophy in four seasons

Giants end four-year trophy drought

The product on the ice must not just be good, it needs to be great. Success is demanded and for the past four years none had come, the longest drought in the 18-year history of the franchise.

Since long time player and then general manager Todd Kelman left to start a new dynasty in Cardiff there had been no trophy for Steve Thornton, the man who succeeded him.

There wasn't a bigger smile in Cardiff as Thornton became the first Giant to win silverware as a player, coach and now the GM.

Kelman was one of the first to congratulate him.

Keefe appointment vindicated by cup triumph

After going outside the organisation it was Thornton who persuaded Adam Keefe to take up the role as coach last summer.

It was a gamble - Keefe had never coached before and as a player was a Giants legend. But what if it all went wrong?

Well Keefe has thrived in the role, although he admits to how stressful it can be at times.

Between himself and Thornton they put together a squad of players in the same mould as the coach was as a player.

Tough, hard working and with skill to back it up.

That was all on show in bucket loads against Cardiff.

On the door of the Giants locker room is painted: 'A proud city takes great pride in you.'

The connection between the Giants and their supporters has always been strong. Nights like this one only make it stronger.

Under Thornton and Keefe this Challenge Cup win may herald a new chapter in the sporting success story that is the Belfast Giants.

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