Belfast Telegraph

Shooting Ballymena United to Europe is way beyond Friel's wildest dreams

By Billy Weir

Forget Europe or bust, Cathair Friel is already living the dream by the Braid. The Ballymena United striker's goals have played a huge part in a season to remember for the Sky Blues, with the League Cup in the bag and the carrot of a Europa League spot still dangling tantalisingly as the campaign draws to a close.

United sit in fifth spot at the moment and know that if they can better Cliftonville's result against Linfield when they lock horns with derby rivals Coleraine tomorrow then they will clinch fourth spot in the table.

But Friel, who joined the Braidmen from Limavady United last summer, is still pinching himself that he is playing at this level never mind bagging 22 goals or having Europe in his sights.

"It's not bad for the first season, I'd have taken the hand off for you that if you'd offered it," he said with classic Co Derry understatement.

"We could finish fourth and that would be the icing on the cake in my first season in the Premiership.

"Again, I'd have taken your hand off if you'd said I had the chance of playing European football in my first season in the Premiership, it would be unbelievable.

"I never thought I would even play in the Irish League so to get a chance to play in Europe is scary, I'm only 23 and I'd never thought I'd be doing this.

"I thought when I played in Championship Two that would be me but for Davy (Jeffrey) to give me the chance to show what I can do is great and to play in Europe would be a dream come true.

"I set myself a target to get in the team, into the 16 and then a target to get into the 11 and when I did start playing I did well and I set myself more targets over the season and, to be honest, I can't believe I've hit them.

"I hit 10 goals before Christmas and thought I would get nowhere near that. I said I would be happy if I hit 20."

As for Jeffrey, he is delighted that his charges, who had lost their way a little after their League Cup adventure, have responded with two wins on the bounce.

"It looked like the season was going to fizzle out and all of that joy evaporated and you had to remind yourself what we had done," he said.

"But there's nothing better than winning a game of football; and winning against Cliftonville and against Crusaders for our players is a massive thing."

And now a chance for redemption against their rivals from up the A26, who may have other things on their mind with the small matter of the Irish Cup Final coming up

"We have had the upper hand mostly this season but the last time we played Coleraine they battered us 4-0," he added.

"We had probably run out of legs at that part of the season; we'd won the League Cup, gone to Ballinamallard and secured a place in the top six and the game probably came at the wrong time.

"But the reality is we were chinned 4-0. The message to our players is not so much Coleraine but can we get ourselves into fourth? That's the challenge, let's go and try."

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