Irish Cup: Coleraine boss Oran Kearney calls on his players to 'make more history'

EoinBradley celebrates scoring against Larne
Coleraine beat Larne 3-2 at Inver Park in February to reach the Irish Cup semi-finals
Sadler's Peaky Blinder Irish Cup semi-final
Venue: Windsor Park, Belfast Date: Monday 27 July Kick-off: 16:00 BST
Coverage: Live on BBC Two NI, the BBC iPlayer, BBC Sport website and BBC Radio Ulster

Coleraine manager Oran Kearney has called on the Bannsiders to "make history" ahead of Monday's Irish Cup semi-final against Ballymena United.

The match will be the first competitive fixture to be played since 7 March as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The semi-final will be Coleraine's first visit to Windsor Park since winning the League Cup in February.

"It is a place we have always had good success and hopefully the players draw on those experiences," said Kearney.

"We put in a massive effort in the quarter-final to get past Larne and I'll be reminding the players that with the work they have put in so far, it is important we try to make another bit of history."

Coleraine have begun training ahead of the last-four encounter and Kearney admits football's return "will be tough for all teams".

"It has been hard coming back with everything in place. We are slightly against the clock in relation to getting friendlies in but it will be no different for the other teams," he said.

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"It has been important to put the reins on people a little bit. We want to be as fit as possible but we don't want to pick up any injuries.

"They have all come back in great shape and they are hungry to do well."

Ballymena 'have a clean slate'

Coleraine were heavy favourites for the semi-final before football's suspension having beaten the Sky Blues twice in three encounters, most notably in the final game before lockdown.

Ballymena ended the curtailed Irish Premiership season in tenth position while the Bannsiders were runners-up behind Champions Linfield.

However Kearney has warned his players, saying Ballymena will bring "everything you would expect from a David Jeffrey side".

"They had a cracking season last year and deservedly so," he added.

Oran Kearney celebrates after winning the Irish Cup in 2018
Oran Kearney won the Irish Cup with Coleraine in 2018

"You can make any excuse you want, but in my opinion the injuries they have had have made it very, very tough for them.

"I'm sure they will have players available who may not have been for the original semi-final date, so the slate is fresh for them."

Kearney also insisted that the 140-day break from competitive football means that any previous form will go out the window.

"As well as we have done in the League and the League Cup, it was so long ago now that it doesn't really matter and I don't think it will have any impact on the semi-final," he said.

"The important thing is that we are ready to go and we treat it as the one-off that it is."

Involving the fans

With the last-four ties being played behind closed doors, Coleraine will show the semi-final live on a big screen in the car park of the Showgrounds and Kearney says it is the "least the club can do" to involve the fans in the occasion.

"It is a pity because there is a big fan base from both clubs. We may be big rivals but there is a respect there too, so it would have been a great experience if everyone could have been involved."

Coleraine last won the Irish Cup in 2018 in Kearney's first stint as manager and the 41-year-old says building a connection with supporters by winning trophies "is a great habit to get into".

"We create experiences as a group of players, club and the fans in relation to the League Cup final, which can only whet the appetite," he said.

The winners will play the victors of the second semi-final between Cliftonville and Glentoran, which will be played at the same venue at 20:00 BST on 27 July.

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