THE next three weeks are going to have a major bearing on Coleraine’s season.
An exhaustive schedule of seven games in 21 days will see the Bannsiders play Ballymena United twice in both the league and Irish Cup as well as two legs against Shamrock Rovers in the Setanta Cup and key league games as they bid to secure a top six finish.
Boss Oran Kearney has challenged his players to rise to the challenge and finish the season on a high.
“We had an unreal December last season and I’ve told the lads I want us to have that type of a February,” Kearney told Times Sport.
“It’s the sort of month that you have to eat well, sleep well and just focus on your football.
“I don’t expect to hear of any nights out.
“We have to tune into things over these next few weeks. It was a solid enough start picking up a point against Ballinamallard, but we have to push on from it.
“It’s a bit of a cliché but we have to focus on each individual game and not look to far down the line.
“Obviously we have to plan how we are going to approach each game in terms of personnel.
“We have this game on Tuesday night at Cliftonville whereas Ballymena have a week off now.
“It’s important that we secure our place in the top six, but equally it’s important that we progress in the cup too.”
The Bannsiders had the Indian Sign over Cliftonville for so long but this season they are still waiting to take a point off Tommy Breslin’s side.
And Kearney is a big fan of the league leaders.
“Cliftonville have been fantastic this season,” said Kearney. “I watched the cup final last week when they were excellent, but they’ve been really good week in, week out.
“The acid test was when they lost to Linfield at the start of January. I think a lot of people thought that they would wobble then and were wondering how they would respond.
“But what a response it has been they have been on a super run since then.
“Our current form certainly is not what we would be hoping for. I know a lot of people were talking us up back in October time, but I know the league is the hardest thing to win as you have to do it over 38 games.
“But we are developing as a team and hopefully we can mount a serious challenge over the next couple of years.”
With the games at Cliftonville, Ballymena and Shamrock Rovers coming up in quick succession over this next week Kearney knows his squad will be tested to the limit.
But he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“We have a 21-man squad now with Gareth Tommons back on board and we’ll need every single one of them,” he said.
“We worked so hard last season to get into the Setanta Cup the last thing we’re going to do is be disrespectful to it and see it as a chore just because it throws up a busy schedule for us.
“I’m excited by it and I hope the players are too.
“We always do take a great support with us no matter where we go and I’m sure it’ll be no different in Dublin.
“Hopefully we can get a good result down there so that there is plenty to play for in the return leg so that Shamrock Rovers bring a good crowd up here and make a real night of it.”
Next Monday night’s first leg will be Rovers first competitive game of 2013 so does Kearney feel this will offer his side an advantage over Trevor Coly’s charges?
“It will and it won’t because they will be coming off pre-season and they won’t really be up to speed, but the other side is they’ll have good rest going into the game,” he said.
“The Monday night game makes it difficult for us as we have such a short turn around time from the Saturday so that levels things up.”