McLaughlin saw red a minute into extra-time with the game poised on a knife edge - the Bannsiders had already suffered the sucker-punch of watching their two-goal lead slip away in what was an enthralling second half.
But, after having to deal with that heartache, they suffered a further blow as the big striker was shown a straight red card by referee Andrew Davey following an altercation with Chris Curran.
Kearney said: “We’re all big boys. At full-time we spoke about being in this scenario before and what was needed.
“The momentum had shifted and we said that to the players, it wasn’t easy but the key thing was we weren’t out of the cup yet.
“There was 30 minutes to either go and win it or there was a penalty shoot-out to go and win it with as well.
“They key thing was to slowly but surely break the momentum and try and get a foothold again, ideally through a bit of possession or a chance or two.
“But when the red card comes a minute into that it literally blows it apart.
“It is a momentum swing but it’s another shot in the arm for Cliftonville rather than us.
“I haven’t seen it back or spoken to James at this moment in time. But if he has struck the player then it’s crazy from that point of view because it makes life really, really hard for us.
“Even at that I think the third goal we concede is avoidable, but at that stage we’re into fatigue because you’re down to 10.
“I felt we could have hung in there and even if you get a penalty shoot-out it’s a lottery, there’s no issue in sitting tight and doing it, but his decision makes it difficult for all of us.”
Kearney felt his side had carried out their gameplan “to perfection” after going 2-0 up thanks to Matthew Shevlin and Stephen Lowry.
But things turned with 16 minutes to go as Joe Gormley reduced the arrears before Paul O’Neill levelled in stoppage time. The duo found the net again in extra-time before Curtis Allen’s late consolation.
“You eek out a gameplan in relation to how you envisage the game going and how you go about getting a result on a day like today, like you do with any cup final.
“For 65/70 minutes it was perfection in relation to how we started, how we managed the game and, in particular, how we kicked on.
“The quality of the two goals we scored - how they’ll not be remembered as match-winning goals in a cup final is very hard to take...Lyndon’s assist, Matthew’s finish and Stephen’s as well.
“In all aspects it had gone perfectly to plan in relation to how I wanted it to go.
“When we scored the second you expect a couple of strikers to be thrown on, but you’re ready for that.
“Everyone knows that the seven or eight minutes of pressure, if you see that out you can then push on and see the rest of the game out.
“We’re built for that. Cliftonville are a very technical side, generally their goals come from one-twos or little balls in behind.
“But at that stage it was kitchen sink and lobbing balls into the box, which was exactly what I wanted.
“I was going “happy days” because I felt we would eat it all up and if we could see through the next seven minutes or so then ideally we would get up and going again and see the game out.
“It’s just really frustrating. The manner of the first goal in relation to it’s a header on the edge of the six-yard box and it’s unopposed.
“I would query if it was our throw-in in the build-up to the second, but even at that there’s two or three balls in the box which we haven’t got a head on, which we’re built for.
“It has turned a magnificent performance up until that point in time into the opposite.”