Belfast Telegraph

Comment: Why Coleraine's Irish Cup success was a joy to witness

Cliftonville 1 Coleraine 3

By Graham Luney

Coleraine chairman Colin McKendry arrived in the post match press conference clutching the Irish Cup and he didn't look in the mood to let it go.

He should enjoy the celebrations as much as anyone because it was his trust and faith in manager Oran Kearney that allowed the former Linfield title and Irish Cup winner to keep this club on the path to success.

The sight of Kearney and his backroom staff racing into the penalty area to celebrate Eoin Bradley's sweet finish deep in stoppage time was a joy to witness - unless of course, you're a Cliftonville fan.

How much more Irish Cup pain can the north Belfast club take? One triumph in 109 years... and that came back in 1979. Right now it feels like a Cliftonville Irish Cup triumph is as unlikely as a surprise election result in Russia or a Northern Irish summer without the flooding.

And yet the Reds players were pumped up well before even the National Anthem started. They planned to rattle Coleraine from the word go but despite retaining possession they couldn't get an early breakthrough.

The familiar saying is 'defences win leagues' but Coleraine's superb rearguard will settle for the Irish Cup this season.

Cliftonville, in Joe Gormley, Rory and Jay Donnelly, boast plenty of firepower but the Bannsiders backline was immense.

Stephen O'Donnell produced a captain's performance while Gareth McConaghie was named man of the match on his 30th birthday… the perfect present.

Adam Mullan and Aaron Traynor rarely put a foot wrong. Traynor produced a clever assist for Darren McCauley's thunderbolt and Mullan came up with a stunning tackle to deny Rory Donnelly. It wasn't a penalty.

And all their three goals were clinically dispatched by McCauley, Aaron Burns and Bradley.

Coleraine have now only tasted one defeat in 43 league and Cup matches - a phenomenal run and the players must be warmly applauded for the mental strength and character they showed in rising to the occasion after the title heartbreak.

Grown men, including Derry City manager and Kearney's father in law, Kenny Shiels, were in tears. And no doubt there were a few tears of sorrow in the Cliftonville dressing room because these memories last a lifetime and they can haunt you.

The strange feature of the first half was the fact that Cliftonville enjoyed most of the possession and played on the front foot but Coleraine had the better chances.

McCauley and Jamie McGonigle were unable to convert from close range after Ian Parkhill deliveries. The Bannsiders looked nervous in the opening exchanges as Cliftonville produced some slick passing and movement but failed to test keeper Chris Johns.

Coleraine were a different side in the second half.

And what a strike from McCauley in the 50th minute, a goal worthy of the occasion.

Five minutes later Conor McDonald's impressive run allowed Rory Donnelly to slot in the equaliser.

Substitute Aaron Burns then produced a sublime finish but what a shocking goal for Cliftonville to concede as a mishit clearance from Johns trickled through to the former Linfield ace. The last nail was hammered into Cliftonville's coffin when Bradley dinked the ball over Brian Neeson.

The Coleraine celebrations were as much about relief as pure joy because their season rested on how that second half was going to unravel.

Many supporters will feel it would have been a travesty if Coleraine had won nothing but football doesn't owe anyone anything.

It's a first trophy as a manager for Kearney and a first Irish Cup for Coleraine since 2003 but while it comes at the end of a remarkable season for the club, it feels like a new dawn on the north coast with even brighter days on the horizon.

Belfast Telegraph

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