Glenn Ferguson believes the pain of Ballymena United’s Irish Cup final defeat is helping to motivate his players in the early weeks of the season.
Four games into the new campaign and the Sky Blues sit top of the table.
They moved two points clear at the summit after this victory over Dungannon, aided by Matthew Tipton’s first goals for the club.
Ferguson is reluctant to get too excited by their lofty position, mindful that there are plenty of big tests ahead in the coming weeks.
After tonight’s League Cup tie against Newington YC, Ballymena face Glenavon on Friday night.
It is a repeat of last season’s Irish Cup final, when a late goal from Mark Patton ended their dreams of a first cup triumph in 25 years.
Ferguson admits the defeat hurt his players, but believes they have channelled their frustration in a positive way.
“Some of the boys know they didn’t perform on the day,” he said.
“There were other circumstances which dictated what happened in the cup final as well with injuries and sending offs.
“I think they’ve been hurt badly and some people want to put it right.”
Ballymena went ahead in the seventh minute when Tipton robbed Terry Fitzpatrick on the edge of the box and ran through to slot home.
Swifts should have had a penalty in the 15th minute when Johnny Taylor took down Ryan Harpur in the area – but it went unpunished.
Tipton and Cushley both had chances to stretch the lead, before Ballymena added a second in the 44th minute.
Cushley collected a pass from Allan Jenkins and outpaced Dermot McCaffrey far too easily, before squeezing home a left-foot effort.
Ballymena made it 3-0 in the 50th minute when Tipton met Neal Gawley’s cross with a diving header.
Ferguson believes Tipton’s arrival has been a big factor – and not just because of the goals he promises.
“The change in the shape of the team might well have helped with the extra striker coming in,” he added.
“A 4-4-2 system would have been my preferred formation last season, we didn’t have the personnel to do it, but we have now.”
Cliftonville’s draw with Glenavon means Ballymena now lead the table by two points.
Ferguson said he has not been surprised by his side’s start.
“Every team in this league on any given day is capable of beating each other,” he added.
“We need to keep working hard in every single match and taking one game at a time.
“We’re not going to win every match, but if you keep doing the right things you have a chance of competing.”
Dungannon had full-back Cameron Grieve dismissed late on.
Darren Murphy must now pick up his players for an awkward League Cup tie at Loughgall tonight, before they host Linfield this weekend.
He had no complaints with the result on Saturday.
“We didn’t deserve anything – the best team won,” Murphy said.
“Ballymena were very good, well organised.
“They pressed the ball high up the pitch, showed a good attitude and thoroughly deserved the three points.”