James Costello admits Ballymena United have cast envious glances in Coleraine’s direction in recent times but is hoping it’s the sky blue half of the rivalry that will have most to gloat about come Wednesday evening.
United’s record against the Bannsiders has not made for encouraging reading in recent times and it’s been three years since their last derby triumph, but Costello believes this year’s festive front-up at Warden Street could go in their favour.
“I think it’s fair to say we’re well overdue a win against them,” he says.
“The fans are really looking forward to this one and there’s been a real buzz about the place with tickets selling well and a big crowd set to turn out on the day, so we’re under no illusion about exactly what this means to people and how much they’d love it if we could get the three points.
“We know it won’t be easy because Coleraine are a side that have been challenging up at the top end of the table for the last couple of years and they have plenty of quality players right throughout the team.
“The fact that they always seem to do so well in the derby games will mean they’re going to be confident, but we’re looking forward to it ourselves and I personally can’t wait to get out there and sample it.
“I haven’t had that big an experience of the derby so far and have only had 10 or 15 minutes from the bench but, having played for Glenavon against Portadown, I know exactly what’s expected from the fans in such big matches.”
Beyond the mere 90 minutes, however, Costello insists Coleraine’s is a model that Ballymena should seek to emulate in the coming years.
“We aren’t and shouldn’t be satisfied with finishing seventh, eighth or ninth in the table, we have to have the ambition to better ourselves,” adds the 26-year-old.
“Coleraine have come on leaps and bounds over the last few seasons and, when you consider it’s not that long ago since they had financial problems that could have put them out of business, you have to admire how they’ve turned things around both on and off the pitch.
“Then, since the appointment of Oran Kearney, they’ve pushed on even more and seem to be making real progress all the time. We need to do that as well.
“I fully believe that, in Glenn Ferguson, we now have a manager that can help Ballymena United fulfil its potential and the club can really start to go places.
“It’s going to be a gradual thing and won’t happen overnight but he’s hungry to help us succeed and all of the players are the same.
“Winning the County Antrim Shield last month was a great way to not only end the club’s long run without a trophy and give the fans something to celebrate, it was also proof that we’re not content as a club to just make up the numbers — we want to be collecting trophies.
“Having said that, lifting the Shield has heightened expectations around the place and we’ve struggled with some bad results over the few weeks since then, but that always seems to happen when there’s a match against Coleraine coming up.
“I don’t know what the reason for it is but it always seems that, when we’ve a derby on the horizon, our form dips at just the wrong time and we usually lose a couple of games in the run-up to it.
“Obviously we wanted to avoid a repeat of that this year but it’s happened again and nobody seems to know why.
“A losing run like that knocks your confidence and you’re wondering where the next points will come from, but we’ve got winners in our team and I know everybody’s absolutely determined to put things right on Boxing Day.”
Tickets for the home stand will be on sale in the social club car park from 11am to 1.30pm and from The Kiosk, Galgorm Road, up until 1.30pm, while away fans can secure their tickets from the former JBE premises, adjacent to the turnstiles, also until 1.30pm.
Thereafter, tickets for both ends of the ground will be available from Ballymena Bowling Club until kick-off at 3pm.