While not as long as last year’s Covid-19 enforced break from action, it has been a slightly longer than usual break for me.pre-season in Madrid didn’t really line up well with my time there and once I got back to Northern Ireland I missed out on a couple of games because of the mandatory ten day quarantine.
Then when I got out of quarantine I was looking forward to a long trip to Coleraine’s final warm-up game at Dollingstown, only for it to be cancelled 24 hours before kick-off. So that meant I was heading into the first game of the league season short on match practice…
⚽️ Larne 4-2 Coleraine
🏟 Inver Park, Larne
🏆 Danske Bank Premiership
It had been over 600 days since I last saw Coleraine play in person.
Larne have been operating a full-time model ever since a takeover during the 2017/18 season and in addition to spending big on players (including signing Ben Doherty from Coleraine) they’ve also totally revamped their ground. Inver Park was completely unrecognisable from my last visit, all the way back in 2007.
The first half was fairly even, Coleraine should have gone in front when Matthew Shevlin was denied from point-blank range by Larne goalkeeper Rohan Ferguson, but found themselves trailing at the break as Kofi Balmer headed in for the home side.
The second half got off to a brilliant start as six minutes in, Aaron Traynor arrived late at the far post to nod in a cross and make it 1-1. It must be said, there’s something different between cheering a goal for a team you like and a team you actually support. All last season, I never lost my voice once, it was gone within seconds of Traynor finding the net.
More drama followed as Larne’s David McDaid somehow escaped with only a yellow card after a shocking challenge on Traynor. It sparked a bit of a scuffle leading to Coleraine assistant manager Winkie Murphy and Larne coach Tim McCann both being sent from the dugout. And then Shevlin atoned for his earlier miss by heading in Conor McKendry’s cross to put Coleraine in front.
Alas it was all downhill from there. McDaid, incredibly lucky to still be on the pitch equalised four minutes later. That’s how it stayed until three minutes from the end when inevitably, Doherty applied the vital touch for the decisive goal. And then went down massively in the estimations of the Coleraine fans present by choosing to celebrate directly in front of us. And as Oran Kearney threw on more forwards to try and force a late equaliser, Larne exploited the gaps left at the back to make it 4-2 in stoppage time.
Amenities Watch: Larne provided a good few food and drink options for the fans who made the journey, but I’d already eaten before leaving Coleraine so I didn’t bother.
Match Rating: 8/10 – Just being back watching Coleraine made this a worthwhile trip. Yeah, the result wasn’t great but I saw plenty in the performance to be positive about.
⚽️ Portstewart 3-2 Newington
🏟 Mullaghacall, Portstewart
🏆 Lough 41 Premier Intermediate League
Coleraine playing on Friday opened a window for me to fit in an extra local game on Saturday afternoon. After a drive around an extremely foggy Causeway Coast, followed by a stop in Portrush for lunch, I headed to Mullaghacall for Portstewart v Newington.
The Portstewart team was extremely familiar to me, eight of the starting XI had played for Coleraine at some point of their careers and it was one of these men, home captain Johnny Watt, who opened the scoring three minutes in with a strike from 30 yards.
Another of the former Coleraine contingent, winger Joel Bradley doubled their lead and although Newington pulled one back, Watt restored his team’s two goal advantage with a header from a corner.
Portstewart were fairly comfortable for most of the second half, content to hold onto their lead although a late second for Newington led to a bit of panic in the closing stages.
Amenities Watch: The bar inside Portstewart’s clubhouse was open throughout the game, although I didn’t venture inside as I had just come from a sizeable lunch at 55 Degrees North around the coast in Portrush!
Match Rating: 8/10 – it didn’t have quite the same rush as the previous night’s contest but it was good to see an enjoyable game in familiar surroundings.