Captain's Column

Captain’s Column

COLERAINE skipper Stephen O’Donnell reflected on last Friday’s win against Larne and knows his team-mates will be in for a battle tomorrow afternoon as Ballymena United make their way to the Ballycastle Road…

Last Friday night showed just how much the Irish Cup means to us as a group and to us as a club. I said it after the game, there’s many a team that would have crumbled at half time on Friday, or even at 3-2 down. We didn’t do that. We stuck together, we followed the manager’s instructions and we worked hard for each other. Thankfully we got what we deserved and put ourselves into an Irish Cup semi final. I’ve mentioned in previous columns about managing games and managing situations. In the first half we couldn’t get to grips with their formation and the movement of their front five players in particular. To their credit they rotate and make space well. This was down to a number of things and we could and should have got to grips with it much sooner than we did.

After a few choice words at half time from players and staff, the manager made changes. Those changes and the way we managed the game in the second half and extra time, won us the game. In the second half, we were able to pin them in their own half. We kept putting them under pressure and then land on the second balls and reapply that pressure. Eventually scoring most of our goals through balls into the box. Once we had equalised to 3-3, there was no doubt we would win the game, even playing with a man down as Aaron Canning was injured and couldn’t move. Credit to him, that’s how much he’s invested in this group that he’s willing to put himself through the pain barrier to get a result. There were big performances all over the pitch, from the second half on. In particular, Jamie and Skinner produced what we all know they’re capable of. That’s the level they can play at and that’s the level we need from them week after week if we are to be successful. Josh Carson was also a real spark that got us going and his energy and hard work kick started us in the second half. Friday night was a brilliant result and one that I’m delighted we could give back to you all. The travelling support was brilliant as ever and I’m sure the trip home was full of songs and fun, even if we were all soaked to the skin.

As enjoyable as Friday night was, it won’t be worth anything if we don’t go on and beat Crusaders. Results like that are great, but they’re even more important when they are part of something successful. The draw for the semi finals has seen us paired against Crusaders and that has to be something we relish. Whoever wants to win the Irish Cup this year has to beat Crusaders, so for us, we don’t care if that is in the semi final or the final itself. There is a real buzz amongst the boys that we can be successful as a group and the Crues game is something that we are looking forward to. They are a good side, we know enough about them by now to know what to expect. It will be a fantastic occasion, I know you will all enjoy another big day out. Let’s go and get ourselves into another Irish Cup final.

Credit to Aaron Canning, that’s how much he’s invested in this group that he’s willing to put himself through the pain barrier to get a result.

Before all that, there is the small matter of derby day at The Showgrounds. Something that we as players look forward to, just as much as you fans do. Ballymena have won a lot of games this year and I’m sure they will be coming to us with a point to prove after losing the League Cup final and going out of the Irish Cup in recent weeks. They will be disappointed about that and I’m sure they will be desperate to prove to everyone that they haven’t folded and that they still have that hunger to win games until the end of the season. For us it’s important to follow Friday night on with a big performance. It’s important that we win games and try and finish as high up the league as possible, whilst ensuring that we aim to be successful in the Irish Cup. That’s why three points is massive for us on Saturday. We must be as aggressive and hungry as we were in the second half and make sure that come five o’clock we have three points. I have no doubt that there will be a big crowd there on Saturday and if we can create a good atmosphere, then I’m sure we can have another big day to remember this season.

Finally, this week we had young Cameron down to training to try and cheer him up after a tough couple of days. Any opportunity for us as a group of players to give back to you, is something that we are keen to do. We have kids and families and to see or hear of a young person going through a tough time is something no one wants to see. We were delighted that we could put a smile on his face, even if it was only for a few hours. Individually and collectively we tried to rally round him and give him a boost. That’s what’s so special about our club. It means more to us and to you than just Saturday at 3 o’clock. This club looks after us as players and we want to give as much back as we possibly can, whether that is on the pitch, being successful or working together as fans and players.

C’mon the Bannsiders!

Stephen O’Donnell