Ballymena United youth team boss Clifford Adams has praised the bravery of his players in the face of adversity in their Harry Cavan Youth Cup final defeat.
The Sky Blues went down 4-1 to a slick Crusaders Colts outfit in the decider at Castledawson but Adams hailed the character of his youngsters, who played through illness, injury and personal tragedy.
“I’m absolutely gutted for the boys because gave everything they had,” said Adams.
“Stewart Nixon probably shouldn’t have played on the night with a kidney infection. The doctor had told him it would need a miraculous recovery for him to play.
“Josh Corry has been struggling with a back injury for three weeks. He told me at half-time he didn’t think he could go on but he played another 45 minutes.
“Leon Bonnes is a central midfielder but he had to play up top and I thought he did superbly.
“Josh McCready’s grandfather died on the morning of the match but he wanted to play and I thought he was the man of the match out of both teams. He was absolutely brilliant and he scored a superb free kick.
“The whole team did their best to lift Josh but nobody could say he wasn’t focused - he was absolutely brilliant.
“I’m gutted for the boys because it was all about them - as coaches, we are just facilitators to try to help them go as far as they can.
“Crusaders got the ball forward very quickly whereas we couldn’t get our passing going at all.
“But we had a couple of opportunities and on another night it could have been different.
“We had a very young side with some 15 and 16-year-olds playing at under-19 level so it will be a great experience for them - even right down to staying on the pitch to watch Crusaders receive the trophy.
“There are so many things that will stand them in good stead for the future.
“Myself and the payers and coaching staff really appreciated everyone who went to Moyola to support the team and also David Jeffrey and Bryan McLoughlin for their words after the game.
“The cup final is gone - we can either sit and cry about it or we can try and finish the season strongly and continue the good run we had been on.
“We still have an opportunity to finish in second place in the league and we want to finish as high as we can.
“We’re away at Coleraine on Friday night so there’s no better game for us to get the cup final out of our system,” added Cliffy.