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Starlets have revitalised Coleraine since I arrived, says proud Kearney

By Graham Luney

Coleraine boss Oran Kearney insists he never felt like walking away from the club, even during some turbulent times this season.

The Bannsiders have come through a few winter storms, in particular a 2-0 loss at Ballymena United on Boxing Day which came on the back of four Premiership matches without a victory and a 3-0 League Cup loss at the home of the Sky Blues after extra-time.

But after the Boxing Day blues came better days as Coleraine recorded impressive league wins over Carrick Rangers, Linfield, Portadown, Ballinamallard United and Ards.

Carrick Rangers were also thumped 5-1 in the Tennent's Irish Cup while Tobermore United were edged out 1-0 in the sixth round.

And now, clutching his Manager of the Month for January gong from the football writers, Kearney is optimistic about the future of the young squad he has invested so much faith in.

"It's been a brilliant run and I think seven wins on the bounce is the best record we have had in my six years at the club," said the Bannsiders boss.

"I didn't have many concerns. I've been called a lot of things in the last few months and you get that all the time. Hand on heart, I'm there six years and what's important is we have been looking for something which has substance and longevity.

"A few years ago we took the leap of faith with the young lads through necessity because of our budget and I wondered how long I could keep it going until they matured and I have seen the progression at a rate of knots.

"I hope I'm past the stage of being judged in one-off games. We were disappointed to lose on Boxing Day but you can drop three points in games and pick them up shortly afterwards which is what we did (2-0 at home to Carrick).

"The difference in the club from when I walked in six years ago is obscene in relation to the budget and the amount of players, particularly local players who are tied down on long-term contracts. When I stepped in the last time round we had a few journeymen and there was no reserve team worth talking about while the Colts were bottom of the B league. We now have a fully functioning behind the scenes reserve team producing a conveyor belt of players and a brilliant Academy which does exactly the same.

"It takes time to see that good work come to fruition and we have a lot of teenagers who are the future of the club. I didn't make my Irish League debut until 22 but these kids like Brad Lyons and Lyndon Kane have about 80 starts behind them and five or six derbies and they are 19 to 20 years of age. You couldn't put a yardstick on how far they can go."

Bringing through young talent is one challenge, retaining their services is another and former Linfield favourite Kearney says Coleraine were always likely to address that issue.

"Of course you are concerned but it's only in the last two years that teams are looking to take our players and I've always said if you have a successful club, teams will look to take your players," added Kearney ahead of the home tie against Dungannon Swifts tomorrow. "It was hugely disappointing to lose Rodney Brown (to Crusaders) but it was hard for him to turn down the league champions.

"Bringing the kids through is one thing, keeping them is another challenge. The pool of talent is so small in the Irish League that bigger fish will go looking for that quality. The big advantage we have is the boys are local lads and from the local area which gives them that extra bit of allegiance.

"We had a few offers from Shamrock Rovers for one of our players before Christmas but I'm always keen to do what's best for the player and he is 19 and I didn't feel it was the right time for him.

"He has so much faith where he is. He knows he will play week in, week out and he can make a career with us instead of going somewhere else and not getting that opportunity. Young players know we will give them a chance."

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