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League challenge has given Coleraine huge belief, says Ciaron Harkin

 

By Graham Luney

Ciaron Harkin believes Coleraine can take huge confidence from their league title assault and now sign off the season in style by grabbing the Tennent's Irish Cup.

The Bannsiders pushed Crusaders all the way in the race for the Gibson Cup but fell agonisingly short.

Even though it was the Crues who popped open the champagne, Coleraine's extraordinary Premiership campaign featured only one defeat - a 2-1 loss to Linfield in November.

Ironically, it was the Blues - fresh from winning a treble - who beat Coleraine 3-1 in the Charity Shield game back in August, but both clubs went on to enjoy contrasting fortunes in the league.

In fact, the 2017 champions finished a bumper 22 points behind Oran Kearney's men.

But statistics are one thing, winning is another, and this game is all about winning. In other words, winning medals and trophies.

Midfielder Harkin is keen to leave behind the league heartbreak and focus on the Cup dream.

"Obviously there's immense hurt at missing out on the title but the boys have been brilliant all season and I think we have surprised everyone the way we have worked hard and challenged all the way," said the 22-year-old.

"There's disappointment there that we haven't won the league, but we have an opportunity to win an Irish Cup and the boys are ready to do that.

"We have to right the wrong after what happened in last season's final and we need to win something. You want the hard work to lead to something, not to just mean nothing.

"If we don't finish with a trophy then you are left feeling the effort has been wasted.

"I don't think anyone believed we could take the title race to the final day but we have confidence in ourselves and as the season went on we had more belief.

"With the way Linfield finished off last season and Joe Gormley returning to Cliftonville, other teams were expected to push on in the league and we were probably looking at third place, but to only lose one game is a remarkable record."

Last season's Irish Cup final was a shocker for Harkin and co. - they were swept aside by a classy Linfield side.

"Last year's Cup final was a shock to all of us and we didn't deliver after the big build-up," added the former Institute ace.

"This time we can't let the occasion get to us and it's about backing ourselves to beat anyone. Despite what happened in the league we will go to Windsor full of confidence. The players were emotional at the weekend because it was a massive effort all season.

"But it's been put to bed now and shaken off. Fair play to Crusaders, but we certainly made them work for it. We have one more chance to win silverware and we must take it.

"Cliftonville have good options in attack but we are strong defensively and are confident we can match anyone."

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