New two-year deal for Coleraine's Kearney to fight off interest from Cliftonville
Oran Kearney's stunning achievements with Coleraine this season will earn him a two-year extension to his contract.
Coleraine's board - aware that Cliftonville are hunting a new manager - are determined to see Kearney build on the remarkable success he has enjoyed this campaign.
The former Linfield midfielder has guided the north west club to a third-place finish in the Danske Bank Premiership, Europa League action next season and a place in the Tennent's Irish Cup Final when Linfield will be the opponents at Windsor Park on Saturday, May 6.
Kearney, who was appointed Bannsiders boss in February 2011, has a rolling contract at the Showgrounds but the board are keen to reward the schoolteacher with a fresh two-year deal.
Coleraine chairman Colin McKendry said the club did not fear any approach from the Reds as he indicated that talks over a new deal for the manager were under way. "The club will be offering Oran a two-year extension to his contract," said McKendry, who also revealed that the club had just around 850 tickets left to sell from their 4,300 allocation for the Irish Cup final. "That offer is on the table and I don't have any concerns regarding interest from Cliftonville or another club. Myself and Oran have had a great understanding since he came to the club and that will not change."
McKendry added: "There is no reason why anything will change in the future. The club are focused on the Irish Cup final and we don't want any distractions at this moment but it's clear that to plan for the future we need to have players and the manager committed to the cause. Younger lads have agreed long-term deals and that's purely down to the manager in situ and the work that he has done.
"Oran brought many of the lads to the club and they are really thriving, long may it continue."
Kearney has endured some rough times during his six years at Coleraine and some supporters called for change in the dugout. But Bannsiders chiefs could see the important work that was going on in the background and the second half of this season has went like a dream.
Morale was low over winter but the arrival of Eoin Bradley and Ciaron Harkin in January helped galvanise the squad and an incredible 17-match unbeaten run brought European football back to the Showgrounds for the first time since 2003, the year of their last Irish Cup triumph.
Irish Cup glory is up for grabs again next weekend and there's no question Kearney's stock has risen dramatically this season, sparking speculation that Cliftonville could make a move for the former Limavady boss after the departure of Gerard Lyttle to Sligo Rovers.
"The Cliftonville link does not concern us," said McKendry.
"Oran lives in Ballymoney, is a schoolteacher in the local area and Cliftonville is a very different prospect in terms of travelling and the challenges that would present to the family man.
"I don't see anything developing there and Coleraine are in a position where we do not need our manager or our best players to leave. Mistakes have been made in the past but we have learned from them and become much stronger. We are looking forward to the Cup final and playing in Europe. The young players and the senior lads have gelled superbly and we are all delighted for Oran who has come through difficult moments.
"We cut his budget for three years in a row and he got on with it, didn't complain. Fans are always entitled to have their opinions but I could see the behind the scenes work and was confident it would produce results."
Cup final tickets, meanwhile, are selling like hot cakes despite disappointment that the cost of an adult ticket was raised to £20 this season, a 33 per cent hike on a year ago.
"Our allocation was 4,300 and we have around 850 left," added McKendry. "When you add on Linfield's number sold, at least 6,500, you are looking at a crowd of over 10,000 which is great.
Last year's final between Linfield and Glenavon attracted a crowd of 11,500 and the 2017 showpiece might even beat that figure.