Belfast Telegraph

Recent heartaches can inspire Coleraine to a trophy at last: Bradley

By Graham Luney

Eoin Bradley has tasted both the incredible high of victory and the crushing low of defeat on Irish Cup final day and he's never been hungrier to lift the glittering prize.

The former Derry GAA star helped Glenavon stun Linfield in 2016 but last season he left the Windsor Park pitch with an empty feeling as the Blues brushed Coleraine aside in the showpiece.

Andy Waterworth's hat-trick rocked a Bannsiders side that struggled to deal with the occasion but, 12 months later, Oran Kearney and his men have a chance to secure immediate redemption.

And they will need to pick themselves off the canvas after an exhausting title charge saw them narrowly lose out to Crusaders by only two points.

Striker Bradley now fears his side could end their campaign trophyless, with Cliftonville in the mood to pile on the agony in Saturday's showdown.

It's a real test of the players' mental strength but 'Skinner' says the squad are desperate to salvage some silverware from an incredible season.

"It's been a memorable season for everyone at the club but you want something to show for it and that's a trophy," said Bradley, who was suspended for the scoreless draw with Glenavon on Saturday.

"I don't think what happened in the title race should impact on this game.

"It's a different competition and, while we were challenging at the top of the league for most of the season, just missing out is not the end of the world for us.

"It doesn't take away what we have achieved. But now it's about winning one trophy and of course no-one wants to lose in a Cup final. To win it, you have to produce a disciplined and professional performance. We will certainly hope for a better performance than last year's final but on paper it looks a 50-50 game because on their day Cliftonville are very dangerous but so are we."

Although Coleraine tasted heartbreak last year, it whetted the players' appetite for the big occasion and their response this season has demonstrated their desire to win the big prizes.

"At the start of the season we knew we had a good team but as time went on it became clear just how well organised and hard to beat we became," added Bradley. "We have only lost one league game which is no mean feat.

"Last year's final was a big learning experience, particularly for the younger players because there's a lot of hype around the final and sometimes you can lose focus.

"Hopefully this time the lads can settle down a lot better and play good football. Linfield were very strong and determined last year but we underperformed.

"We have been defensively solid and that must continue because Cliftonville possess the best two or three frontmen in the league. They can hurt us and we know that but you hope on the big stage your key men can produce big performances.

"This will be my third final in a row and it's great because you have the same buzz around the town and all the players are looking forward to it. I think with the fans fully behind us we can get a bit of silverware we deserve."

At the age of 34, Bradley is one of the elder statesmen in the Coleraine ranks but the young aces such as Brad Lyons, Ciaron Harkin and Jamie McGonigle have given him a new lease of life.

"Although we have a number of young players they have played nearly 200 games in the Irish League and that's huge experience despite them being aged under 23," added Bradley, whose love of gaelic football meant he didn't focus on a change of codes until he was 28

"That's a credit to Oran and the club for showing faith in the young lads and they are reaping the rewards. The younger lads make me feel younger and I want to play every week.

"I've another year-and-a-half to go on my contract but I'm only 34 and I'm at Oran to give me a longer deal. It's great that we are challenging for the major trophies.

"Who knows, he might even give me a five-year contract taking me near to Steven Douglas' age!"

Belfast Telegraph

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