Belfast Telegraph

Cliftonville have put Cup final on the backburner, maintains Harkin

By Jonathan McNabb

Cliftonville midfielder Ruairi Harkin insists the Reds will be doing all they can to secure third in the Danske Bank Premiership and book a return to Europe.

Barry Gray's men make the trip to The Showgrounds this afternoon in what will be a dress rehearsal for next month's Tennent's Irish Cup final, but Harkin insists today's outcome will have no bearing on the showpiece final at Windsor Park on May 5.

The fight for third spot is heating up with only two points separating Glenavon in third and fifth-placed Cliftonville.

"We know going up to Coleraine will be a tough game," Harkin said. "They are doing well in the league, but we have hit a good run of form and will be going there full of confidence.

"Our strikers are weighing in with the goals and we are playing some nice football.

"We aren't thinking about the Irish Cup final yet as that will arrive in due course. Our main priority is getting three points, we know third place is massive in regards to European football."

Harkin made the move to Solitude from Coleraine in August 2016 and the 28-year-old insists he is not surprised that the Bannsiders are fighting for an historic league and cup double.

"The only thing that has surprised me is that Coleraine have lost only one league game this season," Harkin added. "When I was there the likes of Brad Lyons, Lyndon Kane and Jamie McGonigle were making the breakthrough and it was always going to take a bit of time for them to develop.

"I'm not surprised that they are fighting for honours as they have a good squad full of talent."

The former Derry City playmaker has returned at the right time after an anterior cruciate ligament injury sustained against Ballymena United in December 2016.

"I was told the injury would take nine months to recover from," Harkin said. "It was longer due to a few setbacks, but I'm glad to be back. Thankfully I'm getting stronger each game and I'm relishing the challenges ahead."

• COLERAINE boss Oran Kearney has been named BetMcLean Manager of the Month for March.

It's the fourth time this season that Kearney has collected NIFWA's coveted award.

Kearney said: "I would like to thank both BetMcLean and the Football Writers for this award, but the credit for our recent success must go to the players.

"I was pleased with the consistency of the team, against all the teams because some of those scrapping down near the bottom can be very hard to put away.

"It was a month of everything with the Irish Cup semi-final and all the games in the league, and the players responded positively."

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