It was 1981 when Institute decided to join the Intermediate League. There didn’t seem to be an option for them, because they were winning everything in the North-West League. The players thought this was a big step as the Intermediate League hosted a lot of good teams. The move was a good one, because our first year proved to be our best ever in the League.
Our first match was against Roe Valley, who had seven ex Irish League players in their team. We won that game 8-I, Ricky Woods scoring the first goal in our Intermediate start. That same season we had to play our Intermediate Cup games away from home which proved costly. We were to get half the gate money at those games, after expenses had been taken out. I remember playing Tandragee Rovers near Portadown and our gate return was £3-5O. We had paid £80 for a coach that day. Our incentive for a good cup run was to reach the semi-finals which meant the four semi-finalists would reach the first round proper of the Irish Cup. Oddly enough our first round opponents were Roe Valley, which we won 2-I. After that we defeated Killyleagh Youth Club 5-I – Post Office Social Club 4-2 -Tandragee 5-3 and our quarter-final opponents were Ballymoney Utd. We started this game very confidently and Peter Love scored after ten minutes. We then had eighty minutes of constant Ballymoney pressure, but held on to win 1-0 and reached our aim.
I remember after the game, the scenes of joy on the pitch and in the changing rooms. Billy Kee the manager was sitting crying his eyes out – he also came to the shower to talk to us, but must have forgotten he was fully dressed or he didn’t care.
Our semi-final opponents were the RUC at Coleraine Showgrounds. This was to be the best game of football I ever had the pleasure to take part in. The match was end to end stuff and the full time score was 2-2. Extra time saw Institute go into a 3-2 lead, but the RUC equalised, taking the match into penalties. Each team scored their five penalties, taking the game into sudden death. RUC missed their sixth, so we needed Alan Dunn to put us through – he’d had a splendid game, so we all felt confident. He missed and so did the next RUC player, and it was left to Jim Hamilton to put us through to play Chimney Corner in the Intermediate Cup Final at the Coleraine Showgrounds.
We did not do ourselves justice in the final and Chimney Corner deserved their 2-0 victory. We had a good boost after the game when we drew Coleraine at the Showgrounds in the Irish Cup. Though beaten 2-1 we played very well.
As the years went on, we never could quite emulate that first year, although we reached finals, we always came off second best.