Bradley's fighting fit to lead Bannsiders' charge for Cup glory
Ballymena Utd 0 Coleraine 4
Seven weeks ago, when Eoin Bradley was being stretchered off at the Coleraine Showgrounds with a punctured lung and broken ribs, there seemed little chance of cup joy replacing the pain.
On Saturday, though, he had the broadest smile at the Ballymena Showgrounds as the former Derry GAA star helped himself to a brace to fire Coleraine into the semi-final of the Tennent's Irish Cup and inflict a rare low day in what has been a season of highs for Ballymena United.
It means the 33-year-old will pit his wits against the team who dispensed with his services at the start of the year, Glenavon, and with five goals in his Irish Cup run to date he will be relishing a return to Warden Street to take on the Lurgan Blues on April 1.
This time the damage was inflicted on Ballymena rather than himself, his strike partner Jamie McGonigle also picking up a pair of goals and the Bannsiders could even afford the luxury of a Darren McCauley penalty being saved.
Coleraine boss Oran Kearney, who, by a combination of choice and necessity, has been forced to play youngsters along with some players who may have thought their chance of an Irish League career had gone, sees the guile of Bradley as key in bringing the sum of their parts together.
"That Eoin is playing at all is unbelievable. When we thought he would be out for 10 weeks he was banging on my door after three looking to play," said Kearney.
"But we wanted him to be ready and he has been first class. He brings us that bit of guile that we were perhaps lacking and his influence on the whole club has been fantastic."
McGonigle, who came in for some stick for the number of chances he spurned in the Boxing Day clash between the two sides, was delighted to have the settled the score.
"On Boxing Day the performance was there but not the finishing, part of that fault was mine, but we knew that if performed t like we did on Boxing Day we would run riot and we did."
A big reason for that was United losing centre back partnership Kyle Owens and Caolan Loughran after the pair clashed heads but David Jeffrey was keen to accentuate the positive rather than concentrate on the negatives.
"It's a roller coaster ride and people shouldn't get too carried away, we've never got too carried away when we've had success this year," he said.
"We've already won a major trophy this year.
Today would have been another bonus but it was Coleraine's day."
BALLYMENA: Glendinning, Ervin, Millar, Kane, Owens (Thompson, 31 mins), Loughran (McKinney, 42 mins), Jenkins, McCloskey (Braniff, 55 mins), Faulkner, Friel, McMurray. Unused subs: Allen, McCaffrey.
COLERAINE: Johns, Kane, Edgar, Ogilby, McConaghie, Lyons (Parkhill, 83 mins), Harkin, Kee, McCauley, McGonigle (Allan, 86 mins), Bradley (McLaughlin, 80 mins).Unused subs: McCafferty, Doherty.
Man of the Match: Eoin Bradley
Match rating: 7/10
Referee: Tim Marshall (Irvinestown)