I stepped up my pre-season preparations with four games in seven days, covering four grounds and three different countries.
Back on home turf for the first time since January! It was a lovely Saturday afternoon to make my return to The Showgrounds for Coleraine’s friendly against North West neighbours Institute. Originally scheduled for The Brandywell, it was switched late in the day which robbed me of a chance to visit a new ground. Oh well.
On the pitch it was an impressive showing from Coleraine who, despite a number of regulars still missing, are going up through the gears nicely in the first few friendlies. It only took two minutes for them to get up and running, with Jamie McGonigle converting from close range.
Despite a number of good chances in the first half, it took until 55 minutes for Coleraine to double their advantage, captain Stephen O’Donnell heading home against his former club. A number of young players then got their chance to impress with Jack Bradley finishing off a great team move to make it 3-0 before Caleb Wan rounded off the scoring on 88 minutes.
It wasn’t bad for a friendly, playing a team from the same league always adds a bit of extra competitiveness and some of the challenges that went in would almost certainly have been punished with cards if this had been a competitive match.
Match Cost: £5
Match Rating: 7/10 (for a friendly)
It feels like every year since I moved away to Spain, at some point in the summer the idea of a trip down to a League of Ireland match has come up. For some reason, it never came together until this year when we hit the road on Sunday 21st July to see the Dublin derby between Bohemians and St Patrick’s Athletic.
Dalymount Park is a fantastic, rustic old ground with real character and history to it. Murals around the ground commemorate concerts by icons like Bob Marley and Thin Lizzy and in a football sense it was also the venue for Coleraine’s two All-Ireland Cup wins in 1969 and 1970.
On this occasion it was hosting a local derby and with Bohs and St Pat’s only separated by one place in the league table, it was bound to be a competitive one. Considering St Pat’s had been involved in a European tie in Sweden on Thursday night, it was rather surprising that they dominated the opening half and created the best chances.
However, it was Bohs who took the lead, Ryan Swan converting a near post cross just before the break. St Pat’s continued to press and threaten in the second half but a second goal from the penalty spot after 82 minutes killed the game as a contest, Conor Levingstone converting after a handball decision against the visitors. Then Swan added his second late on to make it 3-0.
Match Cost: €15
Match Rating: 8/10
A year on from my first visit, I was back in Edinburgh, watching Hearts in the BetFred Cup group stage.
Last year, a slightly mundane first half turned into a second half goalfest as Hearts ran in five goals against Cowdenbeath, so when this game reached half time scoreless, I could have been forgiven for thinking this game would turn out the same. It was surely only a matter of time, especially after a slightly bizarre sequence of four shots being kept out by last ditch goalkeeping or goal line clearances early in the second half.
But then Stenhousemuir scored…
The atmosphere inside Tynecastle had been tense, but it was now obviously toxic. Boos rang out, there were numerous shouts calling for manager Craig Levein to resign and some fans walked out, having accepted the ignominy of defeat by a fourth tier side.
All Hearts’ possession and passing had been somewhat directionless for the majority of the game, but they managed to spare their blushes with two goals in the final ten minutes. First, the equaliser came when Stenhousemuir failed to clear a corner and the loose ball dropped to defender Craig Halkett who drilled it home.
The defender then added his second five minutes later, heading home Jake Mulraney’s cross to seal the win and mean there would be no penalty shootout, which admittedly would have added a bit more entertainment to proceedings.
Match Cost: £12
Match Rating: 4/10
Coleraine’s annual trip to Portstewart is my favourite pre-season friendly. Since 2015 the match has been played as a memorial for former Coleraine and Portstewart coach and all-round gentleman Wesley Gregg and it also offers a chance for me to go and have ice cream on Portstewart Promenade before kick-off.
On the match itself, Coleraine played a bit of a mix and match team with a few regulars mixed in with youth teamers and some others making their comeback from injury, most notably Stephen Lowry and, after eight months out, Lyndon Kane.
With an unfamiliar line-up, Coleraine weren’t as fluid as they had been in their previous game against Institute and fell behind to a looping header from Zak Barr. They had a few chances to equalise, most notably when an acrobatic effort from James McLaughlin was cleared off the line.
McLaughlin did pull Coleraine level in the second half with a typically powerful shot from distance but a second goal from Barr restored the hosts’ lead and in the end, proved to be the winner.
Match Cost: £5
Match Rating: 4/10 (for a friendly)