IRISH LEAGUE: Special milestone for Coleraine FC

The late Bertie Peacock led Coleraine to the League title in 1974
The late Bertie Peacock led Coleraine to the League title in 1974

After making a positive start to the new Danske Bank Premiership season, Coleraine FC will have something to celebrate off the pitch too.

At the end of this month, the Bannsiders will host a 90th anniversary dinner with former players, chairmen and managers in attendance.

The event - which takes place at the Lodge Hotel on September 30 - will mark 90 years since the Bannsiders played their first match against Cliftonville on August 22, 1927.

Members of the 1973-74 Irish League championship winning squad will be present – the only time the Stripes have landed the Gibson Cup – with the club being runners-up on no less than nine occasions.

However, Coleraine have a strong cup pedigree with one of the major successes at the club being the All-Ireland Blaxnit Cup champions in 1969 and 1970 with victories over Shamrock Rovers and Sligo Rovers.

The 1968-69 squad is still spoken about at The Showgrounds after securing four cup trophies that season – the Blaxnit Cup, Top Four Trophy, City Cup and Gold Cup.

The 1970’s was to provide a trophy-laden spell at the club with the Irish League, three Irish Cups, two Ulster Cups and a Gold Cup being brought back to the Ballycastle Road.

A decade later, the Bannsiders would finish runners-up to the league on four occasions and lost in two cup finals, but struggled in the early part of the 1990’s and were relegated to the First Division.

Under the management of Kenny Shiels – Oran Kearney’s father-in-law – the Bannsiders romped to the inaugural First Division title and on their return to the top flight they came agonisingly close to lifting the Gibson Cup, being pipped late on by Crusaders.

The last major trophy to arrive at The Showgrounds was in the 2002/03 season when a first-half strike from Jody Tolan denied Glentoran a famous clean sweep.

Marty Quinn’s side were to play the Glens the following year but lost out by a single goal from striker Michael Halliday.

Financial difficulties were to cripple the club and in the summer of 2005 many of the club’s top players had departed The Showgrounds. On Tuesday August 9 2005, Coleraine hosted neighbours Portstewart in a friendly that looked like the last act of the Coleraine FC story. The final scoreline, a 2-0 victory, was immaterial as supporters feared for the club’s existence.

Meanwhile, representatives of a supporters’ group, the Friends of Coleraine FC, were busy working behind the scenes to try and persuade the High Court to allow them time to prepare a business plan to prove the club could be viably run.

Happily, the club was granted a reprieve and were allowed to start the season the following Saturday.

Their opponents, Glentoran, generously gave Coleraine the revenue from the ‘gate’, an outstanding gesture.

Eventually, they were allowed to go into Administration and a Steering Committee was set up to oversee the running of Coleraine throughout the season.

After defeat to Linfield in the 2008 Irish Cup final, Marty Quinn resigned and was replaced by David Platt who led Coleraine to the 2010 League Cup final – which they lost on penalties to Glentoran.

The following season, Platt was sacked after Coleraine slumped to 10th in the table.

Oran Kearney was appointed as manager from Limavady United, and the former Linfield midfielder steered the Bannsiders to seventh in the table, before reaching the League Cup final in his first full season in charge. Kearney – by his own admission – has suffered some ups and downs in his six-and-a-half year stint and nearly resigned after watching his side lose nine games in the trot.

However, things are pointing in the right direction as Kearney’s kids are flying high in the Irish League table.

A mix of youth with the likes of Brad Lyons, Lyndon Kane and Jamie McGonigle, added to experienced campaigners such as Steven Douglas and David Ogilby mean Coleraine are one of the most exciting teams to watch.

A major coup for the club was the return to European football as Coleraine drew Norwegian outfit FK Haugesund.

The Stripes have a rich pedigree in Europe after ties with the likes of Dynamo Kiev, Tottenham and Sparta Rotterdam.

The story of Dessie Dickson scoring a second-half hat-trick to knock out Kilmarnock in the 1970 Fairs Cup is still fondly remembered by the older generation of the Coleraine support.

The hope around The Showgrounds is that European trips will become more frequent in the near future.

A rise in season ticket sales and the appointment of a new Head of Youth Development means that Coleraine are planning on securing more success both on and off the pitch.