Back in Northern Ireland, the story of my season continues with Coleraine’s two final pre-season friendlies, in very contrasting conditions!
Game 5: Portstewart 2-2 Coleraine (Seahaven, Portstewart – 27.7.2018)
Every year Coleraine play a friendly against Portstewart, their closest neighbours in the Irish League, as part of their warm-up to the new season. Ever since 2015, it has also served as a memorial match for Wes Gregg, who worked as a coach for both his home town club and Coleraine before his death that year.
The Portstewart friendly also happens to be my favourite pre-season game because it gives me the excuse to head down the Prom and have an ice cream at Roughans before kick off!
Portstewart v Coleraine in pre-season means it’s ice cream time! pic.twitter.com/ptmhrQfwbv
— Andrew Gillan (@andrewgillan) July 27, 2018
So on to the important details of the match. It was a largely unfamiliar Coleraine team, with only five first team players, accompanied with a mixture of guests and youth team players. On the other side, almost all the Portstewart players had played for Coleraine at some point in their careers.
Jamie McGonigle, one of the few first team players on display, gave Coleraine the lead midway through the first half, but ex-Coleraine winger Ryan Doherty equalised before the break. Then after the break another former Coleraine player, defender Lee Forgrave, tapped in from close range to give the hosts the lead, but McGonigle rescued the draw with an excellent header from Paul Owens’ cross.
Honours even at the finish and a decent run-out for the players involved. So on to the final warm-up game…
Game 6: Coleraine 8-0 Dergview (The Showgrounds, Coleraine – 28.7.2018)
This should have been the Charity Shield, the annual curtain-raiser between League Champions and Cup Winners. But at the end of last month, it was announced that a date for it couldn’t be agreed due to potential European commitments for both Coleraine and Crusaders. In the event, Coleraine were not involved in Europe and Crusaders played a friendly on Saturday anyway. Make of that what you will.
So Coleraine ended up playing Championship side Dergview. But the match was overshadowed by the end of summer in Northern Ireland. I jest, but Saturday saw a serious deluge of rain after a prolonged period of warm, sunny weather and for the hardy few who gathered at The Showgrounds for this game, it felt more like mid-November than late July.
Despite the heavy rain creating puddles all over the pitch, Coleraine rose above the conditions to run rings round their opposition. Darren McCauley forced the opener from an own goal before being withdrawn as a precaution due to injury. His replacement, teenager Alexander Gawne, added the second before Ciaron Harkin curled in a superb third from a free kick. Stephen Lowry and Josh Carson added two more before the break to leave Coleraine in complete control.
Thankfully the rain eased off in the second half, but Coleraine kept going. Eoin Bradley converted a penalty just after the hour, Gawne got his second and was unlucky not to get a hat-trick before Ian Parkhill completed the scoring in the 90th minute, cutting inside from the left to curl home.
Six games in, I’ve probably seen my biggest win already. Adding in the Hearts game from Tuesday night, this rounded off a week where I saw 17 goals in three games. I’d imagine that goals per game rate will slow down a bit once we get into the competitive games, starting with Coleraine v Warrenpoint next weekend.