Belfast Telegraph

I can see how Coleraine and Crusaders were both the league's best team: McGonigle

By Graham Luney

Jamie McGonigle says he understands why Glenavon boss Gary Hamilton claimed that "the best team hasn't won the title".

Hamilton made the comment after his side held Coleraine 0-0 at Mourneview Park on Saturday as Crusaders lifted the Gibson Cup following a comeback victory at Ballymena United.

The Crues, who netted 106 goals in their 38 Premiership clashes - 30 more than the Bannsiders - ended a thrilling title race two points ahead of Oran Kearney's side.

It was a compelling sprint to the finish line with both sides level on points going into the final game, with only a superior goal difference giving the north Belfast side the edge.

There had to be a hard luck story and it was Coleraine who were left devastated, but they can still finish their season on a high by overcoming Cliftonville in Saturday's Irish Cup final.

Glenavon chief Hamilton stated he felt the Bannsiders deserved to finish top: "For me, Coleraine have been the best team this season by a mile. People say the best teams win the league but this is probably a unique season where the best team hasn't won the title."

Coleraine can feel immense pride after suffering only one defeat in their 38 battles and they boasted the best defensive showing, conceding seven fewer goals than the champions.

But those stats seem little consolation and Coleraine frontman McGonigle has mixed views on Hamilton's assessment.

"Yes and no," said the 22-year-old when asked if he agreed with Hamilton's claim. "Yes because I see what he means with one defeat all year and conceding the least goals and in my opinion we played better football.

"But no because, as the saying goes, the best team always wins the league and Crusaders have done what they had to do. I guess it's whatever way you look at it."

The Northern Ireland U21 international is one of the local game's impressive young stars with the potential to seize a move to full-time football, and he knows a dazzling performance at Windsor on Saturday could fuel that dream, but first and foremost he wants Coleraine to exorcise the ghost of last year's 3-0 loss to Linfield in the showpiece.

"In last year's final, everyone would agree that we were like a rabbit caught in the headlines," said the Dungiven man. "We got too caught up in the whole hype and occasion because many of us hadn't experienced it before. But this time we will learn - we know we first have to perform and get the result.

"It's a great chance for us to show what we can do - I think it means more in the Irish Cup final as it shows you can deal with the so called pressure and in the big games."

McGonigle was nominated for the Ulster Footballer of the Year award claimed by Crusaders' flying winger Gavin Whyte.

"When I first came into the team (in 2015), Oran had said to me - and I knew myself - I was only an in-behind striker, but now I feel I can show out in front and my hold-up play has improved," he added.

"I also believe I have become more clinical in front of goal and you need to be.

"Cliftonville have good attacking threats in Joe Gormley and Rory Donnelly.

"They're a good pairing, they have been over the water and you don't get there if you don't have quality."

• Ballymena United have announced the signing of Ballinmallard United midfielder Shane McGinty for the 2018-19 season.

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