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Follow the proud

Barry Gray has revealed his pride in Cliftonville’s performance despite defeat in yesterday’s Tennent’s Irish Cup Final – and has called on his players to retain their battling spirit for Wednesday night’s Europa League Play-Off Semi Final with Ballymena United.

Trailing when Darren McCauley opened the scoring early in the second-half at Windsor Park, the Reds levelled through Rory Donnelly before being undone by a bizarre goal from Aaron Burns ahead of Eoin Bradley wrapping up victory for Coleraine with the final kick of the ball.

The loss means Cliftonville will enter the Play-Offs, with the Sky Blues visiting Solitude in midweek, and Gray reflects: “I’m hugely disappointed but I’m also immensely proud of the players, the staff, the board and the supporters. I’m proud of everyone associated with Cliftonville, not just for today, but for the whole season. And I’m gutted that we couldn’t deliver for those fans, but it is what it is. We can’t change it.

“All we can do is express how we feel and assure the fans that we will come back stronger.

“The second goal (for Coleraine) turned things – I’ve never seen a ball bobble for 90 yards in my life. It’s just a freak goal. The goalkeeper mis-hit it and it somehow rolled through the centre of midfield and the centre of defence and then ends up in the net. It was massively avoidable and Coleraine got a bit of luck with it.

“We’ve played 40-odd games this year and we have never conceded a goal like that.”

Ahead of Wednesday’s clash with Ballymena, the Manager adds: “We have reinforced how far we’ve come and how the players have bought into me and what we’re trying to do. You could see that togetherness during the Final. We win together, we lose together.

“We need to pick up, go again and prove that we can come back stronger.”