Having taken the lead thanks to Eoin Bradley’s superb free-kick for a spectacular first goal on senior football’s return to the Northern Ireland calendar, Ballymena then regrouped to recover and force extra-time off Kenny Kane in injury-time.
A 3-1 penalty shoot-out triumph ultimately handed Ballymena a spot in Friday’s showpiece back at Windsor Park.
Coleraine had three of the club’s most experienced players unable to find the net in the penalty lottery - but Kearney refused to issue any blame on Stephen Lowry, Bradley or Ben Doherty.
“I’ll never shout, and I said that to the players, I will never fall out with anyone for having the courage to step up and take a penalty,” said Kearney. “We put three of our renowned and best penalty takers first.
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“We’re just disappointed with the manner of the game, we had got it right to that point were it looked so comfortable it looked like we were there, but that’s cup football.
“I’ve congratulated David (Jeffrey) and wished him all the best for Friday.
“I thought we had done an A1, professional job right up until the 95th minute or whatever it was.
“It’s different if there’s an onslaught for 15 or 20 minutes, but I think that was their first shot on target.
“I thought the way the boys had adapted and we had got our goal it was everything that we wanted it to be.
“Also we were seeing it out in the correct manner, there was no onslaught or big scares, everything was going to plan.
“It just seemed there was two or three second balls in a row, then all of a sudden before you know it the ball is in the back of the net.
“It’s hard to take from a players’ point of view and a staff point of view.
“I have to pay big credit to the players, because you talk about momentum swings and everything else in football, Ballymena are cock-a-hoop and our boys are down in the dumps.
“But I thought our response, particularly in the first half of extra-time showed a huge amount of character and endeavour to go and flex our muscles again and show that the tie wasn’t over.
“It was the same in the second period, and when it goes to penalties it is what it is.
“We spoke at half-time because of where we are at this moment and the fitness levels of the teams, we had to be prepared to take a 1-0.
“We created a number of chances in the second half, from where I was at we were the most likely to score, but again the mindset was what we have we hold and try to get the clean sheet knowing that would put us through.
“It’s different if you’re battered for the last 15 or 20 minutes and you feel it’s coming, but that’s not how it felt.
“It was the opposite maybe, it was too comfortable, and then - bang - you get hit with a sucker punch.”
Kearney is keen to learn lessons moving forward.
“We’ve had great experience in Irish Cup over the last few years,” said Kearney. “We had a final defeat to Linfield which we had to learn from, and today will also be the same whether you like it or not.
“You learn a huge amount when you win, but you learn more when you get a kick.
“We’ll hurt for the rest of this week, but we’ll kick on from it.”
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