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Kearney wants derby success ahead of Cup final assault

 

By Alex Mills

Talisman striker Eoin Bradley returns to action for Coleraine in tomorrow's derby with Ballymena United which explodes the myth that manager Oran Kearney may field a weakened side in their final Danske Premiership game of the season.

It's not unusual for players to go through the motions at that stage, but with the club gearing up for next week's Irish Cup final showdown against Linfield at Windsor Park, the battle is on to nail down a spot in the final 16.

The 33 year old Bradley has missed the last two outings due to suspension. It's hardly a coincidence that Coleraine's great 17 match unbeaten run hit the buffers in both.

Kearney's lads were edged out in a thrilling 3-2 contest by title holders Crusaders, but crashed alarmingly (5-1) against their cup final opponents last Saturday.

That result helped move the Blues into pole position at the top of the table -- they hold a two points advantage over the Crues ahead of their journey across town to face Cliftonville.

Having already punched their ticket to European football next season, courtesy of finishing third in the table, the Bannsiders are hoping for a rousing send off at the Ballycastle Road Showgrounds tomorrow.

"I think when you analyse things, having achieved third place in the table with a game in hand has been an absolutely phenomenal achievement by the players and everyone associated with the club," said Kearney, who is set to be offered a new two year contract to remain as manager.

"It's been a long hard programme, with some difficult games. But the credit must go to the players. We hadn't a good December, but they knuckled down after that."

Kearney put his neck on the line by promoting a number of his youth players two years ago -- most of them are now established members of a well-drilled unit.

"We had to be patient with the lads," he added. "It was always going to take them time to bed into the side -- and into a very competitive league.

"Thankfully, we were rewarded with the emergence of quiet lads, who are now first team regulars. Yes, our unbeaten run was going to end sometime, but we still made a decent fist of it before being beaten by the Crues.

"However, we came up against a very determined Linfield side last weekend. To be honest, there wasn't a lot in it in the first half. When we took the lead, it stung them into action and leveled almost immediately, although I still think it was meant as a cross from Aaron Burns. There was simply no holding them after that.

"That game has now gone. It will have no bearing on the cup final, I've no doubt about that. It's the biggest day of the season so it will have its own identity and merits."

Kearney now wants his boys to turn on a show in front of home fans, before they focus on next week's showcase match.

"We want to end the season with a win, for the fans," he added. who have been great," he added. "Skinner (Bradley) is back from suspension, while Jamie McGonigle has set out a few games because another yellow card would have put him out of the final

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