Three things I'll remember from my first ever Ballymena v Coleraine derby
I took in my first ever edition of this intense rivalry on Saturday and safe to say, I'll be back.
The derbies are, in my opinion, the jewel in the Irish League's ever-more enticing crown. And Ballymena v Coleraine is up there with the best of them.
Here are three of the things that will live in my memory from the game:
1. The fans absolutely LOVE it
From about 2.45pm, the atmosphere at the Showgrounds was really fun to be a part of. The Coleraine and Ballymena fans turned out in number and backed their teams with all of the expected passion.
The temperature really rose on and off the pitch during the second half and while it at times reached boiling point, that's what derbies are all about. Where would we be without a few full-blooded tackles? (See point 3 for fans taking it too far, though).
Underneath it, there is a good nature to the whole thing, and one act encapsulated everything that is brilliant about our league's derbies.
That was before kick-off when a Ballymena United fan tried to drape his Sky Blue scarf round the neck of a laughing Coleraine coach Trevor McKendry.
That image is what it's all about. Rivalry, intense rivalry, but with a smile.
2. Coleraine are better than Ballymena
That was the simple truth on the day and even the most ardent of home fans would surely have admitted it. In every aspect of play, the confidence-oozing Bannsiders were a step ahead.
From the bullish Eoin Bradley and ever-classy Jamie McGonigle, through midfield dynamos Lyons and Harkin to O'Donnell and Ogilby at the back (and all the rest), the Bannsiders put in a commanding performance, managed the game to perfection and in truth, looked like winning comfortably throughout.
The Braidmen, meanwhile, again looked disjointed and without any of the fluency and intent that surrounds every aspect of Coleraine's play at present.
Coleraine are top in October. Still nobody expects them to stay there, but with every passing performance, they're earning well-wishers from across the country. Well, maybe not from Ballymena.
3. The players have every right to give a little bit back
Sitting in the midst of the usually-friendly Ballymena United supporters, I could take in the full depth of the abuse fired towards the Coleraine players, staff and even the north coast reporters ("DID YOU SEE THAT (GRANT) CAMERON?").
As football fans, we all know the emotions that come with these sort of matches but at times it does go a little too far, particularly from a few hurting fans. Kudos to Coleraine coach Winkie Murphy for limiting his response to a "that's nice" and I even enjoyed the few Coleraine players who gave a fist pump to the Ballymena supporters while they smiled their way into the tunnel at full-time.
As fans, we have to be able to take it as well as give it. And the players have every right to shove it all back in our faces just a little bit. We should all be able to have a laugh about it at the end of the 90 minutes; we're united by this wonderful game, after all.
Belfast Telegraph Digital