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Coleraine boss Oran Kearney wants to hit his European target

Coleraine boss Oran Kearney wants to hit his European target

Lorcan Doherty

Coleraine boss Oran Kearney wants to hit his European target

Oran Kearney can see a path to Europe opening up in front of him.

And the Coleraine manager wants Europa League qualification to be just the start of a bright new era at the club.

A victory over Irish Cup final-bound Crusaders will clinch third place in the Carling Premiership for Kearney’s men and the reward for that will be Europa League football at the end of June.

“Over the last few years it’s only been the likes of Linfield — and on one or two occasions Glentoran and Cliftonville — who have had something to play for on the last day of the season,” said Kearney.

“It’s a big thing for us to be approaching Saturday’s game with something riding on it.

“Last season we were in the bottom six and it was hard putting the last three or four games in when we knew we couldn’t finish any higher in the table.

“Everyone is enjoying where we are at the minute and now there is something for us to achieve.”

During the 1980s European football was an annual event at the Coleraine Showgrounds. There was a big game against a Tottenham Hotspur side that included the likes of Ossie Ardiles and Ricky Villa and also a tussle with Dundee United, which helped current Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill catch the eye of cross-channel clubs.

European appearances have been less frequent in recent years, which is why qualifying this time around is such a big thing.

Kearney was part of the Linfield team that beat the Bannsiders in the 2008 Irish Cup final, but the Blues’ league title triumph should have resulted in Coleraine going into Europe.

That group of players, however, became the victims of the club’s previous financial problems when Uefa regulations prevented them from entering continental competition at that time.

“The club has been starved of European football since they won the Irish Cup in 2003 and although you only get two, or maybe four, games it would be nice to get there and great for the club and the town,” said Kearney.

The bigger picture is the financial benefits that come from playing in Europe and the experience that Kearney as a young manager — and his young squad — would gain from a couple of Europa League games.

And that could have a major impact on next season and beyond.

“I’m just reaching the end of my first full season at the club and we’re already ahead of the targets that we had set,” said Kearney.

“We lost a few players last summer and brought quite a few young and inexperienced players in.

“We don’t really have the money to bring experienced players to the club, so we have to try to give more experience to those that are already there.

“It might be difficult to keep hold of those players, but that is the challenge that lies ahead of us, although most of them are under contract.

“I have three years left on my own contract and we want to keep progressing beyond what we’ve done this season — although finishing at least fourth and getting to a cup final has been very good for the club.

“We want the players to push the club on now and try to improve on what we have done.”

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