First day of the season, missing ten players, two teenagers making their league debuts and a defender who had just got off a flight from New York. It was quite the start for Coleraine!
Game 7: Coleraine 3-0 Warrenpoint Town (The Showgrounds, Coleraine – 4.8.2018)
The seeds of this situation were sown at the end of the previous season when, with Coleraine fighting for silverware on two fronts, a number of players were walking a tightrope where one more booking could have seen them miss a vital game in the league run-in or the Cup Final. While that was avoided, bookings in the final itself meant Coleraine would be missing captain Stephen O’Donnell, Adam Mullan, Aaron Traynor, Brad Lyons and Jamie McGonigle for the season opener. Added to that list were Lyndon Kane Matthew Kirk and James McLaughlin (Injured), Steven Douglas (Holiday) and Aaron Burns (attending the birth of his first child) so manager Oran Kearney faced a challenge to put together a starting XI for the game.
Defence was a particular challenge, with Kane, O’Donnell and Traynor being three of the likely first choice back four, Mullan the cover for both full back positions and Douglas able to slot in at centre back. On top of that, Burns was due to fill in at left back before his late withdrawal. This meant winger Josh Carson dropped back to left back, teenager Ben Moore made his league debut at right back and summer signing Graham Crown came in to partner Gareth McConaghie at centre back, despite having only just got back from a month-long holiday in America that morning.
With a makeshift back four pressed into action, it’s probably just as well Coleraine were playing Warrenpoint. A better team may have put pressure on that defence early on, but aside from one set piece, goalkeeper Chris Johns wasn’t overly troubled in the first half.
It took a while for Coleraine to hit their stride, but when they did, they effectively ended the game before half time with two goals in the closing minutes of the half. First Ian Parkhill found the net with a rasping shot and soon after, Stephen Lowry finished a fine team move to make it 2-0 and virtually seal the points.
Then at the start of the second half, this happened…
— BBC SPORT NI (@BBCSPORTNI) August 4, 2018
Warrenpoint goalkeeper Parr presented Eoin Bradley with one of the easiest goals he’ll ever score and that was 3-0. Unfortunately, Coleraine didn’t really push on and try to rack up a few more goals, instead sitting back and letting Warrenpoint come into the game. It was probably harsh on them that they didn’t score in the end, having hit the woodwork at least four times in the closing stages of the game. But the three-goal win saw them sit top of the league at the end of the first weekend’s acton.
Game 8: Cliftonville 1-2 Coleraine (Solitude, Belfast – 11.8.2018)
On the road for the first time in the Irish League season, I followed Coleraine to Solitude for a repeat of the Irish Cup Final against Cliftonville. What followed was an exciting end-to-end contest which went right down to the wire.
Although there were no goals in the first half, both sides went close. Cliftonville’s Chris Curran hit the post early on and Coleraine’s Graham Crown saw his header cleared off the line.
Into the second half and after Coleraine had missed a number of chances to go in front, it fell to substitute Aaron Burns to break the deadlock, finishing off Jamie McGonigle’s pass inside the six-yard box. The lead didn’t last for long as Stephen Lowry unluckily deflected Joe Gormley’s free kick beyond Chris Johns.
Coleraine still looked the more likely winners, but the decisive goal had to wait until the 90th minute. However, it was worth the wait…
Aaron Burns scores a goal worthy of winning any game
— BBC SPORT NI (@BBCSPORTNI) August 11, 2018
I just hope there are plenty more matches this entertaining awaiting me over the course of the season.