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Billy Weir: No ifs or buts, Oran's always been a class act on and off the pitch

By Billy Weir

I have known Oran Kearney probably an awful lot longer than either of us would care to admit to, but in all that time I have never asked him if he is a fan of Kipling.

No, not the maker of exceedingly good cakes, the one I have in mind is Rudyard, writer, journalist and poet of some note who won the Nobel Prize for Literature even before Oran was playing for Moyola Park.

'If' is one of Kipling's most noted works, penned as a missive of advice to his son, and it is probably a word that has been battering Oran's grey matter over the past seven days prefixed by 'what'.

His decision to leave his beloved Coleraine (well, he isn't perfect), to enter the big, bad world of professional management at St Mirren is a courageous one, having to uproot his lovely young family, move to a new country and take a break from his job at Cross and Passion College.

It is not a decision he will have taken lightly, I know he derived as much pleasure from the Ballycastle school's exploits on the various sports fields as much as he did lifting the Irish Cup with the Bannsiders.

He is an 'all or nothing' kind of guy, he was the same when he played, his box-to-box style at Ballymena United bringing him to the attention of David Jeffrey who eventually managed to persuade him to give it a go at Linfield.

And what a move that was, he won everything there was to win in one of this generation's best teams, and would surely have gone on to more glittering prizes but for his career to be cruelly cut short by injury.

But like his playing career, he began his management one by serving his apprenticeship, taking over at Limavady United before moving to Coleraine seven and a half years ago.

He got off to a dream start, a win over their big rivals from down the A26 in his first game thanks to Kyle McVey's penalty and he ended his tenure in similarly impressive style with a dismantling of champions Crusaders at Seaview a fortnight ago.

In between times, by his own admission, it wasn't all plain sailing, some of the 'fans' calling for his head and chairman Colin McKendry giving him what is usually the death knell for any boss, the dreaded vote of confidence back in December 2013 after a shaky start to the campaign.

But as Mr Kipling (not the cake one) said, 'If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you' then things should turn out ticketyboo.

And how.

McKendry led the unbelievable chorus of good will and cheers that sent the Kearney clan across the Irish Sea on a wave of emotion and warmth that shows that despite all the bad stuff that is supposed to be rife in this league, there are an awful lot of good people who care passionately about our wee league.

The Bannsiders are now a real force to be reckoned with, Oran could have taken the easy option and stayed on to see if he could go one better than last season's epic runners-up spot in the league.

But just when he left Moyola, Ballymena and Limavady 'what if' would have haunted him in years to come if he didn't take a stab at life in the Scottish Premiership.

Whoever succeeds him has one hell of an act to follow, McKendry's brother, Trevor, who has been with Oran every step of the way since Limavady, has been given the reins in the meantime for a job that the chairman says has seen him inundated with interest in the manic few days since the move.

Do they stick or twist is the question they have to ruminate on and quickly too, as there is no let-up in the busy programme that sees life after Oran beginning at Ards on Saturday.

They must also cope with another of their own off across the water too, with Brad Lyons beginning life at Blackburn Rovers and it would be no surprise at all if a former manager might come back to the Ballycastle Road in January to try and prise away some of the fledglings he gave flight to.

That is in the future though, first up he is up against Celtic tomorrow evening in his first match as the Buddies' boss, up against another former Ballymena United player in Brendan Rodgers.

Changed times, indeed.

Alongside Rodgers there is also Tommy Wright at St Johnstone, Neil Lennon at Hibernian and Motherwell boss Stephen Robinson who all hail from this part of the world, the plantation in reverse being led by men in tracksuits.

It's sad to see them all leave, but how good is it to see them beating a path for others to follow?

So, good luck to big O, live the dream and while there may be a bit of triumph and disaster along the way, the next story is yours to write.

It's a long way from Cowtown to taking on the Celts, but no ifs or buts about it, he will always be a class act, on and off the pitch.

Cross-channel Crusaders beating a path for others

You have to wonder who is writing Gavin Whyte’s scripts at the moment, as they would be chucked out the window of any producer for being just a tad far-fetched.

Unstoppable at Crusaders, armed with a clutch of team and individual awards, he finally got his deserved move to the full-time game and has created the sort of impact in Oxford last achieved by a man called Morse.

And that endeavour earned him a call into Michael O’Neill’s squad for Northern Ireland’s game with Israel and then came his moment, the 22-year-old ushered into the match with 25 minutes to go.

To be fair it took him some time to find his feet, 106 seconds to be exact, and with his first touch in international football he scored.

And it was quite a night for former Crusaders wingers as the second goal of the evening was scored by Stuart Dallas, whose own story could be the blueprint for Whyte, and hopefully more rising stars from this part of the world.

It is refreshing to see so many players who cut their teeth in the Irish League now going on to bigger things. In the international squad as well as Dallas and Whyte, there was Niall McGinn, Liam Boyce and Gareth McAuley who all learned their trade here.

And it was the same for the Under-21s on an incredible night for them too, as they went to Spain and won 2-1 thanks to goals from two former Irish Leaguers in Liam Donnelly and Shayne Lavery.

Glenavon’s Mark Sykes, surely the next to leave these shores, started that game, his former teammate Bobby Burns was also in action and Coleraine’s Jamie McGonigle came off the bench to impress too.

Former Linfield winger Paul Smyth, who now plays at QPR, also played, hauled down for the penalty that allowed Donnelly, who began his career at Dungannon Swifts, to score and mark a memorable night for the skipper.

There are also nine Irish League players in the Under-19 squad at the moment — that experience can only benefit the local game and long may it continue.

Out on the wing

Baxter may be out but he isn’t down about it.

It seems a bit perverse to say it when you have just shipped in four goals, but the IRN BRU Cup beating by Queen of the South could be just what Crusaders needed.

 Trailing 4-0 at the break in Dumfries, the doom merchants were dusting off their cloak and scythe again and the ‘Crues in crisis’ headline was being updated from last year’s blue version.

 But Stephen Baxter’s men stopped feeling sorry for themselves and went out in the second period and by all accounts played some sensational stuff, clawing back three goals and almost pulling off a great escape.

 Sadly it ended a bit like Steve McQueen’s effort (film spoiler alert), just coming up short but Baxter, who showed plenty of fighting spirit himself when he was asked to leave after a chat with the officials.

 “I’m certainly not disappointed in any shape or form about the result,” he said. “If anything, it showed what we are capable of. Hopefully, it will now be the platform for us to kick on at domestic level.”

Newry City, you have been warned!

Healy lays out strong case for his defence

He is a man who made his name from scoring goals, especially at Windsor Park, but seeing very few go in at the away end of the national stadium is probably giving David Healy just as much delight at the moment.

 The Blues maintained their lead at the top of the table following Friday night’s abridged programme, chalking up another clean sheet — their fifth in their six league outings to date.

 And when you consider that has been achieved without the services of newly recruited Northern Ireland left back Ryan McGivern, the influential Mark Haughey and Mark Stafford making his way back, then it is all the more impressive.

 “Our defence has been impressive and there has been a big turnaround from last season, this will be crucial this season if we can continue this form,” said Healy following the 5-0 walloping of Warrenpoint Town.

 While the likes of Jimmy Callacher, Andrew Mitchell and Joel Cooper have been grabbing the headlines thus far, for me the unsung hero has been Chris Casement, not a player who has always been a favourite of the fans, but he has been outstanding so far this term.

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