McGonigle despair, Donnelly debut and Gray lays down the law - five things we noticed

Joel Cooper was in inspiring form as Linfield thumped Ballymena United
Joel Cooper was in inspiring form as Linfield thumped Ballymena United

Coleraine have a night to remember at Windsor, Linfield pull clear in the Irish Premiership title race and the bottom two sides play out a relegation showdown thriller at Milltown.

It was quite a weekend in local football, with trophies won, beautiful goals and last-minute drama.

Here's what we learned from it all.

McGonigle and the highs and lows of a cup final

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Highlights: Bannsiders defeat Crues in Windsor decider

It was the stuff of Jamie McGonigle's dreams, and Chris Johns' nightmares.

The Coleraine goalkeeper's underhit clearance could only reach Declan Caddell in midfield.

Then it was a case of two headers: Caddell's into space to find McGonigle, and McGonigle's to tee himself up.

As the Coleraine defenders scurried helplessly in his wake, McGonigle thumped the ball beyond Johns.

With Bannsiders blood pumping through his veins, his celebration was noticeably muted.

Inside he would have been loving it. This is why he joined Crusaders.

In the end, it was nothing more than a false dawn. As Coleraine grew into the game, Crusaders retreated into their shells.

They looked toothless in the second half, at least until the ball fell to their trusted No.9 again.

McGonigle missed a glorious chance in stoppage time to force extra-time at Windsor Park
McGonigle missed a glorious chance in stoppage time to force extra-time at Windsor Park

This time, it was make-or-break. Trailing 2-1, Crusaders had one last throw of the dice in added time. Jordan Owens, like he's done time and time again, headed a cross down into the danger area.

It evaded David Cushley but fell to McGonigle and, as Windsor Park stood still, he blazed his shot over the bar.

A little over a minute later, Coleraine were celebrating as McGonigle bowed his head in despair. He's been scoring goals for fun all season. James McLaughlin hadn't scored in months. At the final whistle, it was the latter who emerged as the matchwinner.

It was the stuff of James McLaughlin's dreams, and Jamie McGonigle's nightmares.

Donnelly draws blank as Carrick frustrate Glens

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Glens drop points at home to Carrick

McGonigle wasn't the only high-profile, recently transferred Irish League forward with his head in his hands over the weekend as Ruaidhri Donnelly failed to mark his Glentoran debut with a decisive goal.

Lining up as part of a fearsome attacking trident with Robbie McDaid and Andrew Mitchell, Donnelly was unable to shine as his Glens debut ended with him being replaced by Deivydas Matulevicius after 67 minutes.

By that stage, of course, Donnelly had already passed up a gilt-edged chance to light up the Oval, producing a timid header after being found by Marcus Kane.

But Donnelly was far from the only frustrated player wearing green, black and red on Friday. Mitchell struggled, Navid Nasseri was kept quiet while McDaid was unable to find his way past inspired Carrick 'keeper Harry Doherty.

Glentoran manager Mick McDermott afterwards admitted it "wasn't a great performance" but insisted his side had "created enough chances to win two football matches".

After falling further behind Linfield, it's clear where McDermott's frustrations lie.

Cooper and the Valentine's Day date from hell

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Linfield go six clear with victory over struggling Sky Blues

It's not how the Ballymena back-line wanted to spend Valentine's Day.

Yes, 90 minutes with an electric Joel Cooper should be everyone's idea of a date from hell.

Unfortunately for the Sky Blues, the 23-year-old dished up some tough love at the Showgrounds, pulling Ballymena's defenders every which way as he helped Linfield complete a convincing 4-1 win.

Cooper terrorised his hosts from start to finish. He ghosted past Kofi Balmer in the build-up to Jordan Stewart's goal and whisked through the home side's defence, forcing the save from Ross Glendinning before Andrew Waterworth tapped in Linfield's fourth.

Every time Cooper picked up the ball, he looked deadly.

He is unstoppable in that kind of form, and he's been around so long that it's difficult to believe he won't turn 24 until leap day.

Linfield are doing their best to decimate this five-team title race. With Cooper at his devastating best, it may not be long before they're out of sight.

Will Byrne keep his place?

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Larne beat Swifts to chalk up fourth straight league win

It was a difficult night for Conner Byrne at Stangmore Park as Dungannon Swifts fell to a 2-0 defeat by Larne.

The 16-year-old goalkeeper could only punch Tomas Cosgrove's cross into the path of Martin Donnelly for Larne's opener before allowing Fuad Sule's speculative effort escape his grasp for the Invermen's second.

Byrne, who made his Glenavon debut aged 14, clearly has a bright future, but it will be interesting to see how Swifts boss Kris Lindsay manages the youngster from here.

Glentoran boss Mick McDermott replaced Marijan Antolovic with Elliott Morris after the former was beaten by Jamie Glackin's corner. Sean O'Neill has spent plenty of time on the Crusaders bench. Berraat Turker lost his place at Warrenpoint after Conor McDermott fired the ball over his head from a different postcode.

It's just part of being a goalkeeper. The sooner Byrne becomes accustomed to rotation the better.

Gray lays down the law as Point are pegged back

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Lasp gasp Stute grab point at Milltown

Having seen his side squander a lead at the death to Institute, Warrenpoint Town boss Barry Gray was in no mood to sugar-coat.

"We got one more point than we deserved," said Gray after a ding-dong 2-2 draw at Milltown.

"It was not good enough in any shape or form, and the players will take responsibility for that."

After Danny Wallace finished off a fine counter-attack to give Warrenpoint the lead six minutes from time, it looked as though the County Down side would end the night five points clear of Stute.

However, with time ticking away, Gavin Smith turned the ball into his own net to ensure the spoils were shared.

"The game management tonight was horrendous," raged Gray.

If that doesn't elicit a response from his squad, nothing will.

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