Belfast Telegraph

Stephen Dooley hoping to soothe memories of Coleraine's 2008 Irish Cup heartbreak

By Graham Luney

Ten years ago, Coleraine winger Stephen Dooley was a fresh faced teenager unable to stop Linfield overcoming the Bannsiders 2-1 in the Irish Cup final at Windsor Park.

A 75th-minute substitute for John Watt, Dooley and his comrades were thrilled when Paddy McLaughlin fired Coleraine in front but a Peter Thompson double bagged the Blues a third straight league and Cup double.

Fast forward to this afternoon and Dooley is hoping for a different ending against Cliftonville at Windsor Park.

The 26-year-old, who returned to the Showgrounds in December after a spell with Cork City, is now banking on his third spell at Coleraine serving up a stunning Irish Cup triumph.

"That was a long time ago now, 10 years this year I think," said Dooley, who helped Cork City achieve the League of Ireland league and FAI Cup double.

"Unfortunately the final didn't go as planned for us after going up 1-0, but it was still a great occasion for the club.

"Cup final day is absolutely amazing.

"The fans are all up for it, the stadium is packed and the buzz around the town leading up to it is brilliant.

"If I'm lucky enough to play in the final it will be my fifth. I've won two and lost two so far.

"I want to turn that into a winning record."

Dooley and his team-mates were distraught when Crusaders pipped them to the Premiership title but they must lift themselves for one final big push for silverware. With the club either two games away from winning a league and Cup double or simply nothing, the pressure was on.

It would be cruel if they finish the season trophyless and suffer Irish Cup agony for the second year running but every success in football must be earned.

"It would have been amazing to complete a 'double double', but it just wasn't to be in the end," said Dooley. "But we have to move on now. Our aim has always been to bring a piece of silverware back to Coleraine, and we will be doing all we can to achieve that.

"The atmosphere around the town is phenomenal, there's blue and white flags everywhere and all the shops have their windows decorated with the club badge.

"Everyone is really looking forward to it. I personally can't wait, hopefully we can go on and get a good result."

Under the shrewd management of Oran Kearney, the Bannsiders have been transformed into title contenders and Irish Cup finalists.

A return to the European stage has also been secured but the next step and challenge for the players is to win a major trophy.

Dooley added: "This is where the club should be, with the fan base we have, the structures within the club with the Academy set-up.

"The club really is doing fantastic at the moment, and long may it continue.

"There are a lot of good people working hard for the club and hopefully we can carry the success through the next few years."

Meanwhile, Bannsiders centre-back Gareth McConaghie could be the man to mark Cliftonville's goal machine Joe Gormley in today's final.

"If anybody had said to me that I was going to play in two Irish Cup finals, I would have laughed at them," said the Coleraine defender.

"Linfield were just too strong for us on the day last year but the learning curve we took from it was that we got a taste for it and we want more of it."

Gormley hasn't managed a goal in his four outings against Coleraine this season.

The Bannsiders won three of those contests, with the other battle resulting in a goalless draw.

"Me and Stevie (O'Donnell) and the rest of the defenders do our best to keep Joe quiet but it's not only Joe," he added.

"The whole attacking set-up at Cliftonville is worthy of scoring any time."

Belfast Telegraph

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