IRISH CUP: Coleraine boss already dreaming of another final date

Oran Kearney salutes the Coleraine supporters. Pic by PressEye Ltd.
Oran Kearney salutes the Coleraine supporters. Pic by PressEye Ltd.

Sometimes in life the most valuable lessons are the hardest learned.

For Oran Kearney’s group of emerging Irish League talents, this weekend’s tutorial must have been about as fun as being stuck in a triple period of chemistry on a sunny afternoon.

But their long-term mentor knows it could be a class that proves worth taking.

The education comparison won’t be lost on his charges - six of Saturday’s starting line-up were 21 or under, although Kearney admits he’s very much past submerging in statistics that prove his side to be the most youthful in the division.

On the biggest stage in local football, Linfield handed out a footballing masterclass but, Kearney reminded his charges, the win required a hurtful lesson of their own 12 months previous. Now he wants Coleraine to put their experience to good use.

“As much as the defeat will hurt (the players), what they’ve gained from that experience when the dust settles, they’ll hopefully be able to use for future wins,” said Kearney.

“Linfield had to come here last year and go through the experience of not winning (an Irish Cup final). I’ve said to our players, now that they’ve got a taste of that make damn sure we get a crack at it from January, get to two in a row and ideally come back and do it right next year.”

Kearney’s young side have passed the vast majority of this year’s tests with flying colours, graded good enough to represent the Irish League in European football next season.

But on Saturday, Linfield were simply better and their famed midfield engine room of Jamie Mulgrew and Stephen Lowry achieved much in aiding that domination.

“They’re the two top end midfielders in the league,” conceded Kearney, “and I’ve spoken to my two. Ciaron (Harkin) is 19 and Brad (Lyons) is 21. Those two are 30 so they have those extra years of experience and guile on them. It showed at times but as I’ve said to our lads, they have to start somewhere.

“When you come to a cup final and you see the scenes at the end, you want it to be you. It’s extremely disappointing.

“My biggest concern coming into the game was the opening 20 minutes, I thought, bar one scare, we got through that reasonably smoothly.

“We looked as though we were growing into the game but then we went through a 10 minute spell when every time we won the ball back, we made a poor decision through a few nerves. Then all of a sudden, we just found ourselves pinned in our own half and unable to get out and that killed us.”

Kearney surprised a few by naming Jamie McGonigle on the right wing with James McLaughlin partnering Eoin Bradley up front. While the boss says his only demand of the players on the day was to have no regrets, he didn’t have any in his attacking team selection either.

He said: “Jamie has probably had as many games wide right as he has up top this season. We had already secured Europe and finished third in the league; cup finals are about winning. You need firepower on the pitch.

“There’s no point in us becoming cannon fodder and allowing Linfield to come at us wave after wave in a 4-5-1. We wanted to be brave and give ourselves a chance of winning. I felt I had my strongest team on the pitch or right up there with our strongest team.”

Kearney’s class of 17 may not quite have been able to graduate as Irish Cup champions but they’ll certainly have a good rattle at the resits next season.