Rodney McAree says his Coleraine side will not be giving up their hold on the Irish Cup without a fight.
The Bannsiders showed their determination to keep hold of the trophy they won last May with an unbelievable comeback against Larne on Friday night.
McAree’s men looked dead and buried after a 45-minute blitz from the Bluefin Sport Championship leaders, who led 2-0 thanks to Davy McDaid’s brace.
Eoin Bradley scored a double of his own, but it looked like it wouldn’t be enough as McDaid put the visitors back in front again with three minutes to go.
But that never-say-die attitude came to the fore again as Jamie McGonigle fired home the equaliser in stoppage time before a Ben Tilney own goal and another cracker from McGonigle completed a fantastic night for the Bannsiders.
“They don’t want to give up the cup,” said McAree. “The boys in there at halftime in the dressing room were hurting.
“Their pride had taken a bit of a dent as well. It’s live on television with people all over the place watching it.
“We have been poor on the television this year so they maybe thought - here we go again - but they showed great character and courage.
“And they did not want to let go of the cup.
“There is a long way to go before we can start thinking about finals and all that.
“It is just nice to be in the hat for the next round.”
McAree was quick to praise his players for the way they turned the game around after a dismal first half.
“We showed character to respond,” he said. “We weren’t good enough in the first half but Larne were very good.
“We maybe contributed to that by sitting a wee bit deep and giving them spaces to work in and they took advantage of that.
“So at half-time we asked players to play higher up the pitch.
“We told Bradley to play higher as well.
“And we had to be a wee bit braver and the boys responded to it and we got a goal and Larne sat a wee bit deeper.
“We kept going and going and I didn’t want to see extra-time but to respond again at 3-2 down was tremendous.
“It was the sort of game you thought there would be chances. We could have been out of the cup but the boys have character and they worked very hard to get back in the game.
“The players were terrific and they deserve all the plaudits.
“It wasn’t free-flowing football that won the game. It was pure desire.”
Despite being disappointed with the final score, Larne boss Tiernan Lynch was also full of pride for his players.
“I’m hugely, hugely proud of my players and I thought they were utterly superb for the first 60 minutes,” he said. “All the things we talk about and do on a daily basis they carried out in abundance.
“Davy (McDaid) had an early chance and if that goes in, then the game would have been curtains.
“I don’t think it was a case of using the long ball but rather Coleraine penned us back in.
“We couldn’t get out and we probably sat deeper than we wanted too.
“They pressed us aggressively and we are disappointed with how we defended.
“I’m not going to be critical of anybody as I don’t think anyone deserves any criticism and I’m extremely proud of my players.
“Credit to the boys as it was a big night for them and in the end it just wasn’t enough to get us through.
“I thought we would have gone through when we went 3-2 ahead if I’m honest.
“But it wasn’t to be and it’s a learning curve.
“We have to take it on the chin and congratulate Coleraine and we go again.
“It’s important they don’t drop their heads and to learn from it, that’s the key.”