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Coleraine embracing big battles: Kearney

By Graham Luney

Coleraine boss Oran Kearney says the mouth-watering Irish Cup quarter-finals underline the fiercely competitive nature of Irish League football.

Ballymena United have just lifted the NI League Cup for the first time and clubs like the Sky Blues, Glenavon and Coleraine know that Irish Cup glory is within their grasp.

The Bannsiders have navigated their way to fourth place in the Premiership and today they hope to roll over Ballymena United and make it to the Irish Cup semi-finals.

Revenge will be on their minds after David Jeffrey's side dumped Coleraine out of the League Cup at the semi-final stage but Kearney's men responded by going on an eight-match winning run before holding Cliftonville 0-0 at Solitude last weekend.

The quarter-final draw threw up some explosive derby fixtures and former Linfield favourite Kearney says they are tests everyone should relish.

"I can remember going to Warrenpoint a few seasons ago with a few games left and we needed to make sure we were mathematically stable in the top flight," said the Coleraine chief.

"The players now have the scenario where we are fourth and have a chance to make the semi-finals of the Irish Cup.

"We've a chance to make Europe and it's a challenge to embrace and be thankful for. The boys have worked very hard and they need to keep going.

"I loved the big games as a player and it's the big games in this league that keeps us all going. It's a mouth-watering fixture and there's been a lot of talk about it. There have been a few tasty derbies already and more to come. For the league in general it's great to see.

"In my playing days there were two very strong sides but in the six years I have been manager at Coleraine it has changed a lot and while a few teams are not able to challenge for the league title, an Irish Cup win can be achieved and we have closed gaps massively to make it a much more competitive league.

"We have not performed well in the Irish Cup in recent years and we want to put that right. With losing to Ballymena in the League Cup semi-final, we want to put that right too."

United boss Jeffrey said: "Oran has taken his team on an unbelievable run. They are absolutely flying."

Coleraine will be without suspended full-back Adam Mullan.

There will be a minute's applause in the 12th minute in honour of lifelong United supporter Trevor Burns, who passed away this week.

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