Coleraine nurse wounded pride but will return stronger
Coleraine will be disappointed but they shouldn't be disheartened. If there is one group of players who earned the right to walk out of Windsor Park on Saturday with their heads held high after a defeat to Linfield - it was this Coleraine side.
The harsh reality is that no other Irish League team could have lived with the Blues in the Tennent's Irish Cup Final.
Linfield resembled a grizzly bear ready to go to war to reach the sandwiches.
But Andy Waterworth's three goals should not, in any way, dent Coleraine's pride.
Their revival since January was one of the stories of the season. An Irish Cup triumph would have added an extra dose of magic to the fairytale, but football never sees all your dreams come true.
The Bannsiders' approach, however, is a refreshing departure from the depressing Irish League trend of clubs throwing silly money at players and gambling on their futures.
Coleraine, who themselves have sailed through some pretty choppy financial waters, have placed their faith in young talent and been rewarded.
Manager Oran Kearney may have needed to rely on promising prospects, but they still needed to be guided, nurtured and kept on the right track.
The Coleraine boss and his assistant William Murphy have used all their experience to keep the boys humble while allowing them to dream big.
The younger players have been on a steep learning curve but they have risen to the challenge and already benefited from significant Irish League experience which they might struggled to have tasted at another club.
And what a spirit and togetherness they have, with a strong north-west bond and immense pride in putting smiles on the faces of their families, neighbours and friends.
And who could have predicted the Bannsiders' astonishing 17 game unbeaten run? Especially after a six-match winless run, including five defeats, culminating in a 2-0 Boxing Day loss at Ballymena United, a second defeat to the Sky Blues that month.
European football is a nice reward for their efforts and this Cup final defeat, though bitter medicine to take, will drive the players on to greater heights.
Skipper David Ogilby said: "The boys will use the hurt to fight back. It's not a nice feeling and we are disappointed for the supporters who have put in a big effort but we will remember it when the Cup starts again.
"It's easy to say the occasion got to us but Linfield played very well and their passing and movement was exceptional. We never got going and once Linfield score two it's hard to come back.
"We have learned as a group of players and grown. It's been a decent season and the young players now know what a final is all about."
Striker Eoin Bradley admitted his side had a mountain to climb when trailing 2-0.
"We didn't get going at all," he said. "But you have to congratulate Linfield, they were very professional and are the best team in the league, very strong.
"We thought we could get one but a clear cut chance didn't come.
"We would have taken a European place and Cup Final appearance at the start of the season but it's always disappointing to lose. I must give the fans a mention as they got behind the team and we thank them.
"Oran said to us after the game we should be back here next season but the squad will have a few additions and it was a steep learning curve for the younger players, it will stand them in good stead for the future."