Belfast Telegraph

'I love it': Ballymena hotshot Cathair Friel fired up for derby day against Coleraine

Fantastic feeling: Cathair Friel celebrates scoring against Coleraine on Boxing Day
Fantastic feeling: Cathair Friel celebrates scoring against Coleraine on Boxing Day

By Billy Weir

Tomorrow's derby clash between Ballymena United and Coleraine may not have the same billing as the traditional Boxing Day meeting between the two foes from either end of the A26, but try telling that to Sky Blue hitman Cathair Friel.

The striker, who has five goals already to his credit this season, can't wait to lock horns with the Bannsiders, with just one more sleep until the big day.

"Derby day is like Christmas Day to me, and I love playing against Coleraine, but if you get a win it feels a whole lot better," he said.

Although a native of Dungiven, he is a dyed in the wool Braidman now, and is well aware what it means to both sets of supporters.

"It's a proper derby, and I didn't really think about it until I came to Ballymena," he added.

"I didn't know what to expect, but from the very first derby I played in, I knew what it meant. I love to get up in the morning and play in a game like this."

As well as parochial pride at stake, the game is second against fourth in the table, with Oran Kearney breathing new life into Coleraine since his return in the summer.

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"They had a massive result against Dungannon last weekend, and it'll be a tight game, but it always is no matter where the game is played," said Friel.

"They're our derby rivals and we'll be up for it, and hopefully we can get a big result.

"It's one of those things, the players obviously love playing for Oran and he's made an impact since going back in, but it'll be a tight game."

Friel bagged a brace of goals in last weekend's victory over Warrenpoint Town, a win that looked to be unlikely when for the second match in a row they were reduced to 10 men with the dismissal of Andrew Burns.

But they made light of their disadvantage, with Friel grabbing two goals in the last 10 minutes to add to strikes from Leroy Millar and Andy McGrory.

"My eyes started to roll when it happened but it's just one of those things," he said of the dismissal.

"We actually played better with 10 men and counter-attacked better. It might have been red - maybe not - but I thought we played well with 10.

"I know we're all fit boys, but it's not easy to win with 10 men two games on the bounce. We got through it and to score a few more goals was pleasing."

McGrory's superb free-kick last Saturday took the former Glenavon man's tally to four goals and temporarily ahead of Friel, who is now in his fourth season with the Sky Blues following his move from Limavady United.

"As soon as he scored against Warrenpoint, that was the first thought in my head - 'There he is on four now'. I was glad to get my two goals to ease a wee bit ahead of him!" he joked.

"To be fair, I don't mind who's on the scoresheet as long as we get the win."

The visit of Coleraine is the start of a tough-looking run for United, with clashes against Glenavon, Cliftonville, Crusaders and Linfield to come with a game too with Rangers Colts in the Tunnock's Wafer Challenge Cup.

"It's early days and we know we have a run of big games coming up in the league," added Friel.

"If we can pick up a few results there, you don't know where we might be sitting."

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