IT was a case of so near so far for Coleraine in the IRN-BRU League Cup final on Saturday.
The Bannsiders, who went into the showpiece final at Ballymena Showgrounds on the back of a 13-game unbeaten run, never really got going on the day.
In a game of few chances with defences well on top it always looked like one goal would seal it. And so it proved. With 34 minutes on the clock Chris Morrow latched on to Stuart Dallas’ pass and slotted past Gavin Cullen despite the keeper’s best efforts.
Coleraine upped their efforts after the break with the best chance falling to Shane Jennings with 20 minutes to go.
His initial effort was parried by Sean O’Neill before David Scullion teed him up for another go, but the teenager could only find the side netting much to the agony of the large Coleraine support.
At the final whistle Oran Kearney was magnanimous in defeat, conceding they were beaten by the better side on the day.
But he made his young side watch the trophy presentation intently so as to make sure they wouldn’t want to experience that feeling again the next time round.
“I told the lads to take the presentation in closely because once you’ve experienced losing a final and watching the other team celebrate it’s not something that you want to do again,” said Kearney.
“We are a very young side without much experience in finals and perhaps that told today.
“I just feel we have more to offer and I’m really disappointed for our fans who have travelled up in such large numbers that we didn’t put on a better show for them.
“It comes down to experience, we’re not a club with a huge budget who can go out an bring in a load of experienced players.
“But we are building from the bottom up. I sincerely hope this is the first of many finals for us.
“We’re in the job to win things and it’s important to experience big days out, but it’s also important to go on and win it.
“So we have to learn from this and make sure we can do that the next time we get another opportunity.”
Kearney was particularly upset by the fact that his team failed to produce the type of performance which has saw them climb up the table this season.
“It was very disappointing from our point of view,” he said.
“You don’t mind losing a final if you’ve given a good account of yourselves and play the way you can.
“But when you look at how we’ve performed over the last few months today was very below par for us.
“But I think you have to give Crusaders credit. They were very accomplished today and produced a very professional performance.
“As I said that wee bit of extra experience that they have over us showed today, that was maybe what told in the end.
“It was a cagey affair and the first goal was always going to prove vital.
“The manner of the goal is particularly disappointing for us. It’s a long ball, flick on and a pass picking out a runner. That’s all basic stuff and we didn’t defend it well enough.
“Goals win games and change the path of the game. If we had maybe gone in all square at the break maybe things would have turned out differently.
“But it’s all ifs, buts and maybes now.
“We just have to learn from it. You watch the Crues celebrating today so that the next time you find yourself in a situation like this you have that memory in your head and you have more hunger and desire to succeed.
“It’s gone now, history is written we’re runners-up and we just move on to the next one.”
Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter was delighted his side produced the goods to win only their second League Cup.
“This is what you trained hard for in the cold winter nights and I thought we were immense today,” he said afterwards.
“I just thought we had that little bit more of a cutting edge today. We had the drive and we dominated possession in all areas of the park and we didn’t lose any battles around the pitch.
“I told them before the game to make sure they came off at the end knowing they had won their personal battle and they did that.
“It was a great goal. Chris has the ability to make those runs into the box and he took it really well. He has a cool head.
“Chris deserves it as he has come through a lot with injury. But we all know his class. I said to him before the game he could be our match winner.”
Crues skipper Colin Coates felt his side had shown great character when it mattered.
“We have not been at our best this season, but we dug in,” he said.
“Paul Leeman was outstanding, along with Gareth McKeown. They all put in a great shift.
“Chris Morrow was a different class and showed that bit of quality.”