Coleraine boss hails 'memorable' comeback win as Bannsiders boost title hopes
Coleraine 2 Cliftonville 1
Oran Kearney rated the second-half of Saturday's victory over Cliftonville as one of the most memorable in his seven-year spell at Coleraine.
Trailing when a rare goalkeeping mistake by Chris Johns allowed Jay Donnelly to give the Reds an interval advantage, the Bannsiders hit back with a deserved equaliser on 71 minutes, when Stephen Dooley fired home from close range.
The hosts then went in search for a valuable three points and were rewarded when Levi Ives brought down substitute Eoin Bradley inside the area on 89 minutes.
Ice cool Jamie McGonigle stepped up and sent Brian Neeson the wrong way to register his 20th goal of the season - and lift the Bannsiders level on points with Crusaders at the top of the Danske Bank Premiership.
"I said privately all week that I was really worried coming into today's game because of what we have been through mentally this week," said Kearney.
"The emotion of the (Irish Cup) semi-final, the buzz of the surreal experience on Tuesday night (against Crusaders) and sometimes I've seen it before where we have got a good result at Windsor Park and then got thumped 4-0 by Dungannon because mentally you have nothing more to give.
"I just worried about the mental aspect of it, the first-half you could see that. We were a little bit lethargic and we urged the players to flex their muscles in the second-half and thankfully we did that.
"The second 45 minutes will go down in my time as one of the most memorable. The buzz, the excitement, Dooley's finish for the first, Jamie's calmness for the penalty. It was just surreal, the fans were terrific and it just keeps everything going."
The result means the Stripes' quest for a league and cup double lives on and Kearney insisted his players always dreamed that a history-making season was still a possibility.
"We have never thought that we couldn't win the league," Kearney added.
"There is no point saying you can't, we are not a big headed team, we never get ahead of ourselves, but in the same stretch, the one thing our changing room doesn't lack is belief.
"All we have worried about is taking care of the next game of football and it has served us well up to this point.
"We will recharge now and have a stress free weekend and get back to training on Tuesday night."
His opposite number, Barry Gray, is hopeful that the injuries suffered to Jay Donnelly and Joe Gormley won't rule the pair out for the season.
"I don't think we can be too hard on ourselves.
"The changes that were forced upon us at the start of the second half probably dictated a lot of what we could do," Gray continued.
"It changed mindsets and our ability to attack.
"Coleraine made a couple of changes off the bench which massively boost them.
"We were unfortunate that we had to take off two of our attacking players, it's very hard to replace Joe Gormley and Jay Donnelly, " he said.
COLERAINE: Johns, Kane, Harkin (Bradley, 56 mins mins), McCauley, Burns (Carson, 69 mins) McConaghie, Lyons (Smith, 80 mins), O'Donnell, Traynor, McGonigle, Dooley. Unused subs: Douglas, Parkhill.
CLIFTONVILLE: Neeson, McGovern, Ives, Harney, Curran, Harkin, Gormley (Garrett, 48 mins), J Donnelly (Cosgrove, 48 mins), Grimes, McDonald, R Donnelly. Unused subs: Mooney, Winchester, Lavery.
Referee: Tim Marshall (Irvinestown)
Man of the match: Stephen Dooley
Match rating: 7/10