Belfast Telegraph

Billy Weir: Things are shaping up nicely for Oran Kearney at Coleraine second time around

Special OK: Oran Kearney is enjoying life back with the Bannsiders
Special OK: Oran Kearney is enjoying life back with the Bannsiders
Coleraine's Stephen Lowry celebrates
Billy Weir

By Billy Weir

They say you should never go back, it'll never be as good as it was the first time around, but it's great to see Oran Kearney trying to buck that trend.

When he left Coleraine in 2018 with the Irish Cup in the cabinet and a superb second place finish in the Danske Bank Premiership, everything was rosy in the garden.

Then it all changed. Kearney took the brave step of trying his hand at full-time management with St. Mirren in the Scottish Premiership, a challenge that he simply couldn't turn down.

It had its ups and downs but, ultimately, he did what was asked of him - he kept the Buddies in the top level and his reward for that was a shoddily handled ending to his tenure.

Meanwhile, back in Coleraine, things didn't go well.

Rodney McAree couldn't transfer his successes at Dungannon Swifts to Ballycastle Road and, to be fair to him, it was always going to be a tall order to fill Oran's shoes.

His second coming at Coleraine seemed to take an eternity and it meant he was playing catch-up with the rest of the teams, many of whom had got their business done early in the summer.

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It is a much-changed Coleraine since he joyously paraded around Windsor Park after clinching their first Irish Cup in 15 years.

From that starting line-up, Jamie McGonigle, Ciaron Harkin, Brad Lyons and Stephen Dooley have all moved on to pastures new. Aaron Burns, David Ogilby, Matthew Kirk and Martin Smith, who were all on the bench that day, have also gone.

That is an awful lot of holes to fill and with McAree bringing in players that, for whatever reason, the returning manager isn't keen on, it is going to take time for Kearney to get back to what he wants.

Not that you would have known it on Friday night as they swished Glenavon away like a cow's tail removing a buzzing pest from its bovine behind.

It was my first chance to see them in the flesh and they were mightily impressive, the midfield of Ben Doherty, Josh Carson, Aaron Jarvis and two-goal hero Stephen Lowry, running the show. Up front a re-born James McLaughlin was a menace, while Ian Parkhill played off him superbly.

At the other end of the pitch, it is fantastic to see Lyndon Kane back fit and playing again, Adam Mullan was faultless and, in the middle, Aaron Canning and Stephen O'Donnell barely gave Andrew Mitchell a kick.

Chris Johns had little to do in goals for, as good as Coleraine were, Glenavon - especially in the second-half - were pretty dismal, barely registering a shot in anger.

Coleraine remain unbeaten, sitting in fourth spot and, yes, it is still very early days, but they felt like the old Coleraine again.

Jarvis looks an astute signing from Stute while, if his cameo display is anything to go by, Nedas Maciulaitis could be a gem unearthed from the Baltic, albeit via Annagh.

"The squad is back where I wanted it, where we have a lot of quality if not a huge amount of depth," Oran told me on Friday night.

"We have 16 or 17 senior players and Alex Gawne and Andy Whiteside who are learning their trade and that makes 18/19 and there's two goalkeepers and that's us.

"I've always run off a squad of 20-21 and I think when you do that there is a feeling that everybody is valued and knows they will be called upon when needed.

"The competition is good but it's small competition among a tight bunch and that's the way we want to keep it."

Business as usual then in his squad plans but, as for the league as a whole, he admits there has been a little revolution and a fair bit of evolution given his relatively short exile from the game here.

"I'm only starting to get through the games but on paper there is a big change in the league, look at Glentoran and Larne, which has been well-publicised," he added.

"You look at the way Cliftonville and Ballymena got on in Europe, Linfield and Crusaders too, so maybe from probably leaving a league where there were three or four teams that were realistically fighting at the top, all of the sudden there is a queue for the top six!

"And it's a hell a queue for the top six at this point in time, so with that we have a lot of work to do.

"We are pleased with big parts of what's gone on; it's maybe a wee bit of naivety that has cost us in the last few games. Points are hard to come by in this league most years but this year in particular they will be hard to come by, so it's so important to take your chances."

As for Glenavon, it was a strange performance. They rode their luck a little in the first-half and cursed it when Josh Daniels' header was cleared off the line by Kane but once the second goal went in after the break, the wheels fell off.

A trip to Fortmarine United in the marvellously-named Tunnocks Caramel Wafer Challenge Cup (please let the trophy be a giant biscuit) is probably a blessing in disguise, or wrapper in this case, for Gary Hamilton.

For Coleraine, it's Dungannon Swifts at home, which hasn't been a happy hunting ground thus far with two draws from their league outings to date. And Kearney has called on the fans to pump up the volume to try and turn things around.

"It's been tough at home in that it has been so quiet and probably not what I'm used to at the Coleraine Showgrounds," he said.

"Away fans are always brilliant and our home fans have been too, and at home turning it into a fortress is something we want to do."

If they do that, then Kearney's return could become as memorable as his first stint.

August has been far from august for Warrenpoint

There is no truth in the rumour that the 2020 diary on sale at Warrenpoint Town does not contain ‘August’ as they never turn up for the opening month of the season.

Stephen McDonnell

Grouse with a target on their backs look forward to the eighth month of the year with more relish than Town, who have had yet another horrible start to the campaign.

Last year they took six games to break their duck in the Danske Bank Premiership and, four games in this time around, they already have four ticks in the losses column, the latest a 5-1 hammering by Cliftonville.

They have conceded a thumping 17 goals in those four games and were also knocked out of the Bet McLean League Cup by Harland & Wolff Welders last week, so frustrated manager Stephen McDonnell will be desperate for a change of fortunes in September.

They go to Ballymena United this weekend, the corresponding early season fixture between the two ending 6-1 for the Sky Blues 12 months ago, and the under pressure manager desperately needs his players to step up for him.

“Something has to change. The players aren’t giving me 100 per cent,” he blasted on Saturday.

“The way we are going, the board aren’t going to put up with these results and I’ll not be in a job so it’s over to the players to work harder for the management team or they could find somebody else coming in and they mightn’t like that somebody else and they’ll be wishing they could rewind the clock.”

They won’t be turning the diary back, that’s for sure, and if they don’t shape up, like the humble grouse, an inglorious twelfth finish will be nothing to crow about.

Oh brother, sibling rivalry is kicking off everywhere

You can picture the scene on Friday night when Stephen Lowry rang brother Philip to have a bit of a gloat after his two goals at Mourneview Park.

Coleraine's Stephen Lowry celebrates

 “Let’s see you do that,” he’d have said and he did just that the following day as Crusaders clinically dismissed Dungannon Swifts, Lowry the younger bagging a brace and setting up another for Billy Joe Burns.

Two fine players and two great guys from a lovely family and on a sibling rivalry theme, there is something similar shaping up in the Burns household as Aaron joined Andrew at Ballymena United.

It is an interesting move by the Sky Blues.

On his day there are few more dangerous players than Aaron but he probably has a point to prove to a few doubters.

Adam Lecky’s injury absence could give him the chance to hit the ground running and if he does that then it could be a very shrewd acquisition.

Elsewhere as the transfer window shut, the big, if hardly surprising, move was Paul McElroy’s acrimonious departure from Dungannon Swifts for Crusaders.

An undoubted talent, this is a big move in more ways than one for the talented forward (above), the main issue being where he is likely to fit in a team now over-crowded in that department.

He already has Jordan Owens and Paul Heatley to try and shove out of the way, with Jamie McGonigle also recently arrived and looking for a place, while David Cushley never lets Crusaders down.

But the new arrivals give Stephen Baxter a different impetus and what a great problem for him to have in trying to pick a team from his glittering array of players.

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Philip Lowry scored twice as Crusaders saw off Dungannon Swifts in the top two clash at Seaview.

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