Belfast Telegraph

Marksman McGonigle aiming for a perfect day at The Oval

By Graham Luney

Jamie McGonigle is confident his Coleraine side can maintain their perfect record in the Danske Bank Premiership today despite facing a ferocious challenge from Glentoran at The Oval.

The Glens have made a promising start to the campaign, silencing many critics in the process, but the high flying Bannsiders will pose a huge threat.

After recording seven league wins on the spin, Oran Kearney's side are threatening to smash the Premiership dominance of champions Linfield and title contenders Crusaders.

The Showgrounds aces are laughing off championship talk but if they can maintain their progress in the months ahead there could be a Gibson Cup challenge from the north-west.

The Glens have only tasted defeat in one of their seven league battles - against the Blues - but their defence will be tested by a Coleraine strikeforce that will include Northern Ireland Under-21 ace Jamie McGonigle.

"Glentoran have started really well and in Curtis Allen and Robbie McDaid they have two top goalscorers who will test our defence," said McGonigle who has just passed the 100 appearance mark for the Bannsiders.

"I also know Corey McMullan well from under-age football with Limavady and he's a top player. The Glens are looking good at the minute and it's two in-form sides, we are just hoping we can get another three points and maintain our perfect start.

"The season is going even better than a lot of people thought but we are still early in the season of course.

"When you've got a perfect record you have to be delighted and everyone is full of confidence and enjoying their football.

"The big question is how long can we keep it going because there's a long way to go in the league. There's a huge desire in the team to keep on winning and our confidence is high but we also know there are some tough tests ahead.

"You have to perform well to win matches and we won't underestimate anyone.

"We have been in great form in the league since Christmas.

"Up until the Irish Cup Final, the boys went on a great unbeaten run of 17 matches and we have started off this season in the same manner. It was important to kick on but no-one is looking at the league table, there's no point. You take it game by game."

Coleraine's winning run will eventually come to an end but a closer look at the character and quality in the dressing room suggests any setback will be a temporary one. "The dressing room is buzzing and the results help that," added McGonigle.

"I think being away in Europe in pre-season really helped the group in terms of bonding and the players coming closer together and developing partnerships and a better understanding.

"We are playing the best football in my time at the club and it's certainly been the best start to a season.

"We have Lyndon Kane, Davy Kee and Gareth McConaghie to come back in and the competition for places is very healthy and that's important.

"Myself and my father worked it out that I have been averaging around 46 games a season for the first two and put that alongside Northern Ireland Under-21 recognition and it's been a fantastic time for me."

The mood around the Showgrounds is one of cautious optimism but as anyone involved in football knows, the wheels can come off the wagon pretty quickly.

"The objectives have not changed," says Kearney. "From the first game of the season my intention is always to try and win the league and this year is no different. There is a real vibe and a real buzz in the dressing room."

Glentoran goalkeeper Elliott Morris has been impressed with his side's start but he's expecting a titanic battle this afternoon.

"Coleraine are full of confidence," he admitted. "It has all the ingredients for a great game but while we will respect the league leaders we won't be sitting back.

"We're at home and playing well. Both sides are young, exciting, energetic teams but with our attacking options we are hoping to win the game."

• Larne have signed former Cliftonville goalkeeper Conor Devlin.

The 25-year-old helped the Reds win back to back titles in 2013 and 2014.

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