Belfast Telegraph

It's time for Bannsiders to deliver on promise: McGonigle

Crusaders v Coleraine Tennent’s Irish Cup semi-final: The Oval, Saturday, 5.30pm

Familiar foes: Jamie McGonigle expects a stern battle with Crusaders
Familiar foes: Jamie McGonigle expects a stern battle with Crusaders

By Graham Luney

Jamie McGonigle has admitted Coleraine have underperformed this season but they are hungry to finish on a high by retaining the Tennent's Irish Cup.

The Bannsiders will take on Crusaders at the Oval on Saturday for the right to wrestle with either Warrenpoint Town or Ballinamallard United in May's decider.

Coleraine pushed Crusaders all the way in the title hunt last season but, after Oran Kearney left for St Mirren in September, their form dipped and a sixth place league position, 26 points behind leaders Linfield, reflects that inconsistency.

Rodney McAree left Dungannon Swifts to take charge at the north west club and the man who steered the Tyrone side to League Cup glory hopes to get his hands on the Irish Cup for the first time.

Former Northern Ireland under-21 striker McGonigle accepts it's been a testing few months but insists he and his team-mates must show their quality.

"Yes, of course when you have a manager like Oran leave you, it's a big loss," said the 23-year-old when asked about the club's difficult season.

"But Rodney has came in and started to put his stamp on it. When a new manager comes into any club, it always takes time to adapt to a new voice, new methods, new playing styles etc.

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"We haven't been good enough at times this year. But that isn't down to the gaffer - he can only do so much preparing us and selecting an eleven. It's then up to us to perform on the pitch and we haven't done that enough.

"With regard to myself, the season started well enough for me including being away with the Northern Ireland under-21s but then I picked up a niggling injury just after scoring a couple of goals which knocked me back a bit. Then just being in and out of the team and not playing regularly has maybe affected me a bit. But there is still plenty to play for."

McGonigle, who was the subject of transfer interest from Crusaders last summer, now hopes to make history alongside as Coleraine have never retained the top knockout prize in domestic football.

"I think it would be a great achievement to retain the Irish Cup," added the man who made his debut against Institute in February, 2015.

"It was unbelievable feeling winning it last year, especially being runners up the year before. So everyone is hungry to taste the success again.

"My favourite memory from last year's final would have to be when Skinner (Eoin Bradley) dinked the keeper. It was a bit edgy just before that as Cliftonville was pushing for an equaliser.

"But when that went in, the place erupted, the players, the subs, players not in the matchday squad, coaching staff all bombed onto the pitch as that was basically game over and the Cup was secure."

That triumph over Cliftonville was sweet for so many reasons. It was a first Irish Cup crown since Marty Quinn's reign in 2003, it exorcised the ghost of the capitulation to Linfield in the previous final and it also brought huge relief to a squad that salvaged something from a season in which they came so close to Gibson Cup glory.

McGonigle is now wary of Crusaders' firepower but Coleraine's thrilling fightback in the quarter-final victory at Larne offered a timely reminder of the holders' desire not to let the trophy go without a fight.

"The Crues have threats all over the pitch, (Jordan) Owens and (Paul) Heatley being the obvious ones," he added.

"When they have players like Billy Joe (Burns) at full back, who is probably one of, if not the best crosser of a ball in the league.

"They also have runners from midfield who chip in with goals, so they are a threat all around. You know what to expect from Crusaders, they're going to give it everything they have got and have quality all over the pitch. It should be a good game.

"What was special about the win at Larne was just the belief and sheer determination to get back into the game.

"Not knowing when we are beaten, even against a side like Larne who are a really good side and will be a force next season.

"I don't even see it as a win over Championship opposition - with the squad they have, and they are as of next season, a Premiership side."

• Derry City have confirmed that youth coach John Quigg has left the club, after more than a decade's service.

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