Upbeat Oran Kearney wants Coleraine to aim for the top
Oran Kearney is relishing the challenge of taking Coleraine back into the top bracket of the Irish League, free from the pressures of the past.
With a new contract signed and a change at boardroom level during the summer, he can focus on improving the Bannsiders' recent record.
Kearney's first full season in charge resulted in a fourth-placed finish in 2012 and they made the top half when the split came 12 months later too.
The last two seasons have been different, although finishing eighth last season was an improvement on ninth in the previous campaign, but Kearney still found himself on shaky ground.
He signed a new contract in June, with the club reporting at the time that 'a number of clear and absolute objectives have been specified' but Kearney feels relaxed as the new campaign looms, with the Bannsiders hosting Glentoran on Saturday.
"There were things going on behind the scenes and one person on the board was behind all the doom and gloom and the way things were put out at the end of last season," said Kearney.
"That wasn't really how things should have been put out, but this person isn't around any longer and things look a lot rosier."
As far as the objectives go, Kearney believes his don't differ a great deal from the rest of the teams who won't be involved in either the title race or relegation scrap, with a top-six spot and a good cup run specified.
The Irish Cup is a particular target, having lost to Warrenpoint Town in the fifth round last season, and Kearney doesn't believe that finishing 12 points off sixth place last year is a gap that can't be closed.
"In the last five or six games last season, we took the opportunity to blood some youngsters and I can look back at other games where we dropped points because we couldn't put teams away," pointed out Kearney. "In this league you aren't going to dominate anyone for 90 minutes, but when you are on top you have to take your chances - and we didn't do that often enough - so I don't see why we can't get an extra four wins to close in on the top six.
"The Irish Cup was disappointing because we were safe in the league by that time and losing effectively ended our season at the end of January."
Kearney got his main transfer business completed early in the summer, with Sammy Morrow being tied up just days after the season ended.
Joining him in moving from Linfield is Rodney Brown, who signed a month later.
Thirty-year-old Morrow's experience with Hibernian, Tranmere Rovers and Ross County will be an asset to Coleraine, but Kearney is also looking for the other end of the age spectrum to make an impact this season.
"Sammy has had a super pre-season," said Kearney.
"We have taken his age into account and we didn't want it to be a case of too much too soon for him and the other over-30s.
"He has scored twice in pre-season and they were both cracking strikes, so I am hoping that he keeps that going.
"We have young lads like Adam Mullan, Brad Lyons, Lyndon Kane, Andy Finlay and Jamie McGonigle who all came through last season and will have a part to play this season.
"Glenn Law came through the same boys club as those lads before going to Sheffield Wednesday for a couple of years.
"He has been with us in pre-season and done well. We're close to getting things tied up with him and I expect him to be part of a good blend of youth and experience as we move forward."
Manager: Oran Kearney
Captain: Howard Beverland
Key Man: Neil McCafferty
Big arrival: Sammy Morrow
Big loss: Gary Browne
Last season: Eighth in Premiership and Irish Cup fifth round
Ins: Rodney Brown (Linfield), Garth Falconer (Dergview), James McLaughlin (Ballybogey), Sammy Morrow (Linfield)
Outs: Gary Browne (Carrick Rangers), Mark Miskimmin (Carrick Rangers), Joe McNeill (Carrick Rangers), Shane McGinty (Institute)
Verdict: Outside the top six again