Burns is a rare find for title-chasing Coleraine, says Kearney
Coleraine boss Oran Kearney last night hardened his team's title chances by snapping up Linfield's Aaron Burns.
It's another statement of intent by the high-flying Bannsiders, who are going toe-to-toe with Crusaders at the top of the Danske Bank Premiership table.
Although 25-year-old Burns snubbed the chance to join Crawley Town at the weekend, he's been on Kearney's radar since being told he wasn't wanted by Blues boss David Healy.
Burns, however, will not be available to face his former employers in tonight's big league showdown at the Ballycastle Road Showgrounds - he is still recovering from injury.
It was a busy night for Kearney as he also agreed an extended contract with midfielder Martin Smith to remain at the club until the end of the season.
Kearney said: "Rarely a player of Aaron's stature and calibre becomes available. He has been there and done it and has scored important goals.
"We've been tracking Aaron since he was made available and had very positive talks from the beginning. I got the sense that Aaron understood what the club is all about.
"I know there was interest from England, so it was important for Aaron to take his time and make a decision he wouldn't regret. I'm delighted to get the deal done. We are anticipating his return in the near future."
Healy's Linfield will not be mounting the winners' rostrum at the end of the campaign, but they could still have a big say in where the title ends up.
The ailing Blues could well face one of those defining moments tonight.
It's now a two-horse race for the Gibson Cup. As Linfield's defence of the trophy wilted hopelessly, Crusaders and Coleraine have both bared title teeth.
Although there is an air of optimism at Coleraine these days, level-headed Kearney insists no one at the Showgrounds will be getting above their station.
"There is a great buzz and that's brilliant for the players and the supporters," he said. "The boys are enjoying it. The standard and the competitiveness of training is frightening.
"They are relishing the big games, the hype and the excitement.
"This is another big test against a Linfield team hurting after some disappointing results, so we have to make sure we are up to the challenge."
Although Kearney welcomed back Lyndon Kane at the weekend for his first game of the season, midfield pair Brad Lyons and Stephen Dooley remain in the doubtful category for tonight.
Linfield will be without defender Mark Haughey, who was dismissed in the 2-2 draw at Ballymena United at the weekend.
Although the Blues have slumped 20 points adrift of Crusaders, Healy insists his men still have plenty to play for.
"It will be another tough challenge at Coleraine, away from home on a difficult pitch," he said. "Coleraine are one of the top teams in the country, so the players should relish it.
"We are well off it at the minute, but our job is to get as high up the table as we possibly can.
"It's a big week for us, with the Coleraine game and then the Irish Cup tie with Newry City at the weekend and Warrenpoint Town the following Tuesday.
"Although we only drew with Ballymena at the weekend, there were certainly some positives we took from the game."