IRISH CUP FINAL: Coleraine keeper Chris Johns is out to get hands on silverware
Goalkeeper Chris Johns insists Coleraine will not be suffering from a league hangover going into Saturday's Tennent's Irish Cup final showdown with Cliftonville at Windsor Park.
The gutsy Bannsiders last weekend agonisingly lost out to Crusaders on the final day of what was a fascinating race for the Gibson Cup – Oran Kearney’s braves were looking to bring the title back to the Showgrounds for the first time since 1974.
But the bubbly was uncorked in North Belfast on Saturday night when Stephen Baxter’s Crues scraped over the line by winning at Ballymena United.
Johns, who this morning is named the BetMcLean April Player of the Month, nominated by the NI Football Writers’ Association, believes Coleraine can make a quick recovery to land the country’s biggest knockout prize.
“We had a chat in midweek just to try and put it (the disappointment) behind us,” said the 23-year-old shot stopper. “There was nothing else we could have done. Yes, we could have won the game (last week at Glenavon), but it still wouldn’t have been enough, so that’s the only consolation we can take.
“Crusaders had it (the title) to lose. They did their job and we just didn’t quite manage to do ours. In the end it didn’t matter. It’s now a matter of regrouping for one more big push.”
If anything, Johns reckons it will galvanise the Bannsiders’ resolve.
“I guess the disappointment and hurt it will make us more determined. We all want to win games. We are a very competitive squad . . . and we work well as a unit, both in attack and defence.
“We intend to put it all on the line for this one last game.”
Incredibly, Coleraine lost only one of their 38 league matches, but it still wasn’t enough.
Johns added: “It was a bit unique. That’s down to how compact as we team we are off the ball.
“Oran has everyone working to win it back as high up the pitch as we can.
“It has worked for us very well this season. It’s a good record, but it didn’t quite win us the league. Hopefully, we can make it happen in the cup.
“The town is buzzing, covered in flags and posters. This cup run has really caught the imagination of the supporters.
“It was the same for the cup final last season. The morning of the final, there were hundreds arrived at the grounds to see us off. It was crazy.
“I’d expect it will be something similar this season. That’s the reason we’d love to bring the cup home to those fans. They have really got behind us.
“We have a great squad . . . so much strength throughout. Compared to last season, we didn’t have the same strength in-depth.
“There hasn’t been too much disruption in the group apart from the injuries to Brad (Lyons) and Lyndon (Kane) who missed the start and now the end of the season.”
Johns, once on the books of Southampton, moved to the Bannsiders from Bangor in 2016, insists he’s grateful that Oran Kearney gave him the chance to stake a claim in this impressive unit.
He added: “It’s been a great move for me. Oran took a real chance on me and I’ll always be grateful to him.
“I’m thrilled he’s the manger I made the step up to senior football for – he has a great relationship with all the players.
“Our goalkeeping coach Michael Doherty had also been a great help. I’m still learning from him. He has a wealth of experience . . . he’s been there and done it.
“He’s still a very good goalkeeper and I continually pick up things from him in training. Before games, he gives me advice . . . a little pep talk.”
On his first BetMcLean players of the month award. “I’ve had a good month, but it’s also down to the boys in front of me. It would be a great week for me if we were to on and lift the club.”