Belfast Telegraph

Coleraine players are ready to bounce back from league heartache: Kearney

 

By Graham Luney

Oran Kearney believes his players can rise to the occasion and seize their last chance to win silverware this season.

Coleraine have been phenomenal this campaign, suffering only one defeat in an exhausting Premiership title race, but they are left reflecting on what might have been after Crusaders held their nerve on the final day.

Kearney knows football can be a cruel, ruthless and unforgiving business and that a league and Cup double dream can evaporate within a week.

But the Bannsiders chief feels his boys have one more huge performance in them, enough fuel in the tank to conquer Cliftonville and bring the Irish Cup back to Coleraine for the first time since 2003.

His men also want to exorcise the ghost of that 3-0 defeat to Linfield in last year's decider but their biggest motivation must be to celebrate some reward for the incredible consistency they have displayed this season.

"You have to say you're a little bit wary of how the players will respond to a new experience, and a new experience that was such a disappointment on Saturday," said Kearney.

"Very little was said last Saturday because I didn't think it was the right time and I sent a brief message out on Sunday to warn all players things aren't handed out on a plate and we have to get over this quickly and they had to clear their minds and bodies.

"And after two minutes at training on Tuesday night, I knew they were ready to go. They arrived, the buzz and the hype and the quality in the training session were through the roof, so I know they are all ready for this one.

"We aren't going to lie; last year's final is something we have used as motivation this season, particularly in previous rounds of the Cup.

"Even our league form was triggered by what happened last year in the Cup final and the experiences we gained and how quickly we have progressed as individuals and as a group.

"I'm in football long enough to know it is the most ruthless sport you can be involved in.

"I've had some well-wishing comments and you read people saying nice things but you don't always get what you deserve. 

"We won't be going out on Saturday with our lip out, though. We won't be feeling sorry for ourselves and we're definitely not thinking because of our performances over the last few months that the world owes us a living.

"We know we will have to be going full throttle to get a result and win the Irish Cup."

Coleraine used to be a club gripped by financial fears and looking over their shoulder at the wrong end of the league.

Now they are playing in Europe, big Cup finals and to the surprise of many fans, league title challengers.

Kearney needs to keep the squad on that upward curve and you would imagine that a taste for the big occasion whets the appetite for more.

"It's brilliant to be involved in these types of games," he said. "You can train all you want and everything else but the acid test on how far you've come is on a match day.

"It seems to be big game after big game; the Crusaders away game and the Cliftonville home game were massive and I could just rhyme them off over the last few months.

"There will be 6,000 or 7,000 fans supporting us which is incredible. As much as last year was a bad experience, we did take 4,000 or 5,000 to Windsor and we grew our support on that day.

"From Halloween on, and particularly Christmas, our crowd has pretty much doubled and it's been phenomenal.

"The night at Crusaders, I've never seen the like of it. The fans have made such an impact on this club.

"Coleraine is a real football club and the Showgrounds is a proper stadium. The atmosphere this season has been chilling, its been electric and it's a great day out.

"As much as I am the manager, I think it would be a great match day experience. There is such a buzz for everybody and I want that on Saturday as well."

Last year's final was a steep and painful learning curve for the Coleraine players, but also the gaffer too.

"I learned a huge amount from last year's final and I've put a lot of that into the preparations for this one," added the former Linfield favourite.

"I'm a firm believer if you go out and do the same things, you get the same so there has been a huge amount different as to how we will go about our business this time.

"The Coleraine I walked into hadn't blooded local players in nine or 10 years after there were only maybe Johnny Watt and Howard Beverland there. Now we've about seven or eight from around the area.

"With that brings families, wives and girlfriends and it gives you an identity. Supporters really feel that association with the players.

"It's not Liverpool or Manchester United shirts in the streets, kids are wearing Coleraine shirts and they are in awe when they see our players.

"That identity is priceless and it has given the entire club a huge lift.

"Now it's about getting a major trophy. We've tried to build, then it was getting players experience, then getting to semi-finals and then breaking that duck by getting to finals.

"The next rung on the ladder is to put silverware on the table.

"This is probably the final piece of the jigsaw that we're looking for to prove we can do this on a regular basis. 

"It's important for both teams to have played at Windsor recently. It is a different pitch to anything else in our league."

Cliftonville vs Coleraine

Tennent's Irish Cup final

Windsor Park, Today, 2.30pm

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