Cliftonville ..... (0)2 ..... Coleraine ..... (1)1
Joe Gormley emerged from the bench in the 55th minute, his side trailing 0-1, and took only 60 seconds to make an impact.
But his back-post conversion from McDonagh’s fiercely whipped-in cross, justifiably left Coleraine aggrieved, Gormley’s hand doing the damage as he punched the ball into the net.
It was a difficult one to detect, only later confirmed by TV pictures, with precious few complaints at the time from Coleraine players.
The goal turned the tie, for although James McLaughlin felt he had a legitimate penalty claim when Kris Lowe blocked his goal-bound header, it wasn’t given and, moments later, that man McDonagh proved Cliftonville’s match winner yet again.
What a season the 25-year-old from Lisburn is having. Player of the Month for January, he’s been one of the league’s outstanding attacking players in 2021/22. Direct, incisive, dangerous and a scorer of spectacular goals, Paddy McLaughlin is getting much more from his winger than Glentoran did last season.
McDonagh would claim he wasn’t afforded a fair crack of the whip over in the East, and his performances for the men in Red could yet have Glentoran ruing their decision to allow the ex-Derry City and Greenock Morton player to move across town.
If there was huge doubt over the legitimacy of Gormley’s goal, there was nothing uncertain about McDonagh’s winner. A sumptuous strike after the alert Ronan Doherty had pick-pocketed the Bannsiders’ midfield and supplied the ball.
Deane, less busy than on his previous Solitude engagement, was rooted to the spot, simply nothing he could do about it.
Cliftonville had started the game brightly, their passing game finding it’s groove but with only one half-chance falling to Lowe, from McDonagh’s delivery, in the opening 20 minutes.
Then the sucker punch arrived.
Coleraine is a squad with plenty of strikers yet not plenty of goals and it took a marauding run from right-back Lyndon Kane to open Cliftonville up. Kane played a neat one-two with young Patrick Kelly, whose return ball was made perfect by a favourable deflection off Cliftonville’s Turner. Kane wasn’t required to break stride and despatched a firm, first-time ball past McNicholas into the net. A well-worked goal.
The Reds were shaken and much as they tried to continue weaving pretty patterns, their early cohesiveness had evaporated. Coleraine ended the half looking the better and almost claimed a second through Brown’s audacious 40-yard chip which only just cleared McNicholas’ cross-bar.
Kearney’s men, well-organized defensively, continued to frustrate Cliftonville, whose rhythm failed to return after the interval.
And although the visitors rarely looked capable of adding to their tally, holding onto the lead, or at least taking the game into extra time, was a distinct possibility... until that 9 minute period when Cliftonville turned the contest on its head with both their goals.
Indeed there was even further anguish for the Bannsiders just three minutes after they’d gone behind. Shevlin advanced into the box only to tumble. Coleraine thought they had a penalty, but Mr Tavinder produced a yellow card, brandishing it in front of their grounded forward, simulation the only logical conclusion.
It certainly gave a highly disappointed Oran Kearney something to reflect upon post-match.
“Sadly we’re standing again talking about the man in the middle and make no bones about it, he’s made a couple of decisions tonight that are possibly quarter or half a million pound decisions, and for me that’s the gut-wrenching aspect of it.
“The first one we’ve watched back and it’s the clearest handball you’ll ever see and on nights like this these [decisions] can be momentum swingers.
“We’ve seen the penalty back as well, which is embarrassing to be honest.
“He’s had two nibbles at him [Shevlin]. He’s had a first nibble, then another bite at him, and how we get a yellow card and a free-kick [against us] for that is beyond me. And it’s not good enough. It’s not good enough on nights like tonight in big, big games and in big, big moments at the business end of the season.”
The Bannsiders made a fist of it in the closing stages, but despite Cliftonville’s obvious anxiety, didn’t have enough quality up top to force another 30 minutes.
For the Reds, it was a first Irish Cup victory over Coleraine for 43 years, coincidentally also a quarter-final. That year, 1979, the Reds went on to win the Irish Cup for the first time in 70 years.
They haven’t won it since. Last night’s success may just have them believing again!
Cliftonville: McNicholas - Lowe, Ives, Addis, Turner - Hale (Gormley, 54), Doherty, C Gallagher (Coates, 78), Kearns (C Curran, 69) - R Curran, McDonagh, .
Unused subs: McKenna, McDermott, O’Neill, Donnelly.
Coleraine: Deane - Kane, Carson, Brown, O’Donnell - Lowry, Wilson (Bradley, 69), Glackin - McLaughlin (McKendry, 69), Kelly (Allen, 86), Shevlin.
Unused subs: Gallagher, Mullan, Traynor, Mitchell.
Referee: Lee Tavinder (Dungannon)