Football fever has gripped Coleraine ahead of tomorrow’s highly anticipated Irish Cup final showdown, with the town bedecked in a sea of blue and white flags.
More than 6,000 fans from the town are expected to make the journey to Windsor Park in the hope that the Bannsiders can see off Cliftonville to lift the trophy for the first time in 15 years.
And the blue and white army will be also be hoping the agony of narrowly missing out on the league title last weekend will spur Coleraine to succeed.
There is a palpable sense of home town pride on display in the Co Londonderry town.
Walking through the town centre this week, it was hard not to be impressed by the determination of businesses to get behind their local team, with everything from banks, chemists, cafes, pubs, hairdressers and even taxis flying the club’s signature colours.
Daniel Maguire, manager of Burns Outfitters, has emblazoned his shop window in the blue and white colours.
He explained: “We got the contract to tailor the suits for the team, so we thought it only fitting to decorate the windows and show our support for the team.
“As you look around the town you see all the pubs, cafes and shops showing their support and pulling together as a community, wishing the team all the best.”
In a nearby pub, lifelong Coleraine fan Alan McMillan told the News Letter that the town was “tremendously proud” of the team’s accomplishments.
“No matter what the result is on Saturday, everyone is so pleased with the team’s performance this season and we could not be more proud,” he added.
Diehard fan Alan recounted some of the club’s most memorable moments over the past five decades, including Coleraine legend Dessie Dickson’s stunning hat-trick against Kilmarnock, and the game against Dynamo Kiev in 1965.
“We were the first British side to cross the Iron Curtain and play in the USSR,” the 62-year-old added.
But, of course, at the top of his list was the day his beloved club lifted the league title for the only time in its history in 1974.
Another superfan who was there that fateful day was Mervyn Black, who will be cheering the Bannsiders on at Windsor Park tomorrow.
Mervyn, who runs a dry cleaning shop in the town, told the News Letter: “I have been a supporter for 48 years, and started going with my father when I was aged five.
“I was 11 when they won the league and those memories still stick with me.
“There have been over 6,000 tickets sold for the cup final, which is one of the biggest contingents of fans I can think of in the club’s history. The town will be empty come Saturday.”
Mervyn spoke of his pride at not just the team, but also the business owners in the town for their show of support.
He added: “The town has really got behind them. It has brought everyone together and I can’t remember the town looking so vibrant.
“It would be a shame if we didn’t pick up anything after the incredible season we have had, but we will be proud of the team no matter what the outcome. Even after the result last weekend, the supporters were still singing. There was only pride.”
It is not just diehard Coleraine fans who have been getting behind the club in the lead up to the final.
Rhonda Gibson, of Tom Toms bakery, said: “I am not into football at all, but it is great to see that this has brought the town together and created a real buzz. I will definitely be rooting for Coleraine.”
Butcher Garry Lafferty, whose premises is bedecked in blue and white bunting, added: “I am usually in work on Saturdays and so I don’t get to go to the games, but I wanted to show my support for the boys.
“I actually painted the butcher sign outside the shop blue and white as well.
“Everyone is really proud of the team and the whole town has got behind them. It is great to see and I wish them the best of luck.”