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I always thought Oran Kearney would be a top boss, says friend and rival Stephen Baxter

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Mutual respect: Stephen Baxter says he and Oran Kearney are fierce rivals on the pitch but friends off it

Mutual respect: Stephen Baxter says he and Oran Kearney are fierce rivals on the pitch but friends off it

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press E

Mutual respect: Stephen Baxter says he and Oran Kearney are fierce rivals on the pitch but friends off it

Stephen Baxter says he always believed Oran Kearney would become a successful manager and he's not surprised to be squaring up to him again on the touchline.

Kearney's return to Northern Ireland following his time at St Mirren may have raised a few eyebrows, but relationships aren't always smooth within football clubs and Baxter thought the former Linfield man would return to these shores and resume work one day.

The 41-year-old, who honed his managerial skills at Limavady United, is now masterminding a Coleraine revival and tonight his side will aim to pip Crusaders to the BetMcLean League Cup.

It should be a cracking final under the Windsor Park lights between two sides who are capable of landing a punishing knockout blow.

Baxter has huge respect for Kearney and expects the man who guided Coleraine to Irish Cup glory in 2018 to savour more success in the dugout.

"Oran was a young manager at Limavady when he retired from playing at Linfield," said the Crues boss.

"He rang me very early on for advice about players and he was a lad I immediately warmed to.

"I've always had a really good relationship with him and we chat often about different things.

"You're deadly rivals in big games but we always chat about other things.

"His career has developed really well. He's an intelligent guy and I always thought he'd blossom well as a manager.

"He knows players, he knows how to deal with people and that's 90% of what you have to do.

"It's no surprise he's done very well.

"Whilst an Irish Cup is on his CV already, there's no doubt he'll be wanting more.

"We've won a few cups and league titles - which are the hardest to win - along the way, but the hunger never stops.

"That's the way it has to be. We're friends off the pitch but we'll be fierce rivals on it."

When asked if he was surprised to see Kearney back in the Irish League, the Seaview supremo added: "No, I'm not.

"What goes on behind the scenes at football clubs is never really revealed.

"How you work with your chairman and the board isn't known outside and that's why I wasn't surprised.

"Sometimes as a manager you are left out on a bit of a limb if promises aren't carried out and you can't build on success.

"Oran is a very intelligent guy, so it didn't surprise me that he saw it as a perfect fit when coming home, and he's carried on where he left off."

Tonight's decider is a repeat of the 2012 final which Baxter's side edged 1-0.

Chris Morrow bagged the winner.

Both sides are also going for the Danske Bank Premiership title and if either of them finish above Linfield, they would expect to be crowned champions.

But the only trophy on their minds today is the shiny BetMcLean League Cup, with the Crues hoping to win it for the third time, Coleraine for only the second time.

The 2012 success was a significant win for the Shore Road side as it gave them the confidence to keep blowing away dust in the trophy cabinet.

"That was the year we went on to win the Setanta and we lost in the Irish Cup final, so we played in three finals that year," reflected Baxter.

"That was the big year in regards to when Crusaders took off a bit.

"My memories of that day, we got the goal pretty early and we settled into the game well.

"It was at the Ballymena Showgrounds and I remember one bus going one way up the road very happy and the other one going in the opposite direction very sad.

"Cup finals are won and lost, one celebrates and one are unhappy, but we were good that day.

"We were confident, and it was a big moment for us and we were able to say we were capable of winning at the very highest end of this game right now, and we were able to build on that."

For the winners, a huge dose of confidence for the end-of-season run-in, for the losers, the mental challenge of getting back on the right track.

"I was watching with interest on Sky Sports News about Liverpool and what would be the best way to win the league and focus on the Champions League," added Baxter.

"It's very easy to lose focus. In football, others see it from the outside in but we are working really closely within it. It's anyone's on the day.

"It's going to be another massive head-to-head game between us and Coleraine.

"If you win that game, you can say there's one trophy in the bag and the others are there to shoot at.

"Having said that, I don't think the others will panic because someone else has won something, but a win would give us a real taste of winning trophies this season.

"If we lose the game, we aren't going to shut ourselves down and go into mourning. It won't be that type of thing at all.

"The games rattle out so quickly and the sign of a good side is how they react to disappointments but there is a cup on the line and we'll be doing what we can to win it.

"We won't get bogged down, if we win then fantastic, but if we don't, we'll knuckle down and work hard on the league campaign and the Irish Cup."

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