RORY McKee reports on the Coleraine starlets that have heads turning…
Nothing is ever easy when it comes to football. Yet in times of constant change, scandals to last a lifetime and absurd transfer fees, there’s one thing that always remains. Season after season, managers across the globe are faced with the dreaded selection dilemma, names circling their minds as they struggle to single out eleven of the best.
But things are different at Coleraine. With the Bannsiders seemingly under-resourced on the pitch, 2016/17 had the word transition written all over it, or so you thought, as fans and pundits alike anticipated an uneventful campaign for the Stripes. However few could have foreseen what was to follow.
After opening day drama, the Bannsiders were awarded three points against Portadown who were deemed unable to fulfil the fixture. This was followed by a most impressive display to take a point from the eventual champions Linfield, August had got off to an ideal start. Oran Kearney’s men went on to show real bounce-back ability, answering a crushing defeat to Dungannon Swifts with a run of unbeaten games in which youngster Jamie McGonigle (pictured) caught the eye.
We often allow ourselves to be drawn in by the myths of the sport. Match of the Day’s Alan Hansen famously said “you can’t win anything with kids”, whilst experience is thought to be a necessity in the modern game. Coleraine FC, it seems, have proved that to be nonsense.
There’s no disputing that more senior figures such as striker Eoin Bradley and defensive stalwart Steven Douglas have played their part in what was an exceptional season for the club. What is clear though, is that the Ballycastle Road outfit have rising stars like Lyndon Kane (below) and Brad Lyons to thank for success on the pitch.
Christmas saw a tricky run of results; two defeats in as many weeks to arch-rivals Ballymena United left many questioning the squad’s character. Those questions were well and truly answered, with the Bannsiders embarking on a remarkable 17-game unbeaten run, seeing them reach the dizzy heights of 3rd place.
And it wasn’t just Coleraine supporters lavishing in the side’s triumph either.
Supporters from all over have continued to express their delight in witnessing a side outside of the perceived ‘big two’ punching above their weight. In fact, only a narrow defeat at the hands of Crusaders put an end to the Bannsiders’ somewhat spectacular form.
January additions, namely Eoin Bradley and Derry’s very own midfield maestro, Ciaron Harkin, have slotted effortlessly into the side since their respective arrivals. Although very much a case of being thrown in at the deep end, the pair made a huge difference as the Bannsiders enjoyed a successful end to the 2016-17 season. Goalkeeper Chris Johns has been a revelation since joining and can be easily considered one of the best in the league.
When push comes to shove, sides will always be judged on their league performance, there’s no disputing that. It really is hard to beat a good old-fashioned cup run though, something certainly in essence at The Showgrounds this time around.
A thrilling Irish Cup adventure, which saw both Carrick Rangers and Ballymena United swept aside, once again allowed Coleraine’s young guns to showcase their talent. And so to Windsor Park it was, roared on by a sea of blue and white in the basking May sunshine.
It wasn’t to be on this occasion, but if there’s one thing you can be sure of, it’s that this side will be back. For this group of players, it’s just the beginning. Add into the mix potential incomings, and it isn’t hard to see why these really are exciting times at Coleraine. Bring it on I say.