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Oran Kearney vows to 'make up for lost time' as Coleraine look to kick-start treble bid in League Cup final

 

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Head men: Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter and Coleraine chief Oran Kearney at Windsor Park ahead of tonight’s final

Head men: Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter and Coleraine chief Oran Kearney at Windsor Park ahead of tonight’s final

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press E

Head men: Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter and Coleraine chief Oran Kearney at Windsor Park ahead of tonight’s final

Oran Kearney insists he's not banking on trophy success tonight to close a difficult chapter in his life and career.

The Coleraine boss saw his life move in a different, albeit familiar, direction this year when he returned from his St Mirren adventure and then accepted the challenge of rejuvenating the Bannsiders once again.

Despite steering the Saints to Scottish Premiership safety, the former Linfield midfielder's cross channel journey was cut short, but St Mirren's loss has turned very much into Coleraine's gain.

The north west club had hit choppy waters, with Rodney McAree shown the door, and it has taken Kearney's magic touch to end the downward spiral.

Fast forward to today and the Bannsiders are still going for the Gibson Cup, Irish Cup and BetMcLean League Cup.

If Crusaders can be conquered at Windsor Park tonight (7.30pm), the first target in that treble will be achieved.

The Crues will be formidable rivals in the League Cup showdown, but this Coleraine side under Kearney is showing its teeth again and opponents are wary of its bite.

For Kearney, who sprinted down the Windsor touchline in a joyous moment at the end of the 2018 Irish Cup final, another trophy triumph would taste sweet, but the 41-year-old is more interested in building for the future rather than burying the recent past.

"The dust has settled on that with the help of a lot of good support within the Irish League, both inside Coleraine and outside," said Kearney when asked about moving on from the St Mirren experience.

"There's a brilliant network of support here.

"But I don't see the winning of anything here inter-linked to that stage of my life I consider closed at this point in time.

"People, perhaps in Coleraine terms, may think what if I hadn't gone away for that year, what could have been? So the key thing now is making up for lost time.

"We had a good transfer window in the summer and we had another in January, so are starting to get that depth back we had a couple of years ago.

"With that the big challenge is this ability to hang on to the coat-tails of the big hitters."

And what a challenge that is. Crusaders and Linfield aren't short of a few pounds, while Glentoran and Larne have new owners prepared to invest in their projects.

Clubs like Ballymena United and Glenavon have found the going tough, but Coleraine's league form has given them a shot at the title.

The players have shown their qualities but there's no question the shrewd manager knows what buttons to press.

"From a financial viewpoint, the bar has definitely been raised," Kearney reflected when asked had the game's standard ever been higher.

"From a manager's point of view, over my nine years you would always have hoped to be able to speak to the majority of players and have a chance of signing them.

"You may have been pipped at the post by others but probably now you are in an environment that, when certain players come into the mix, we cannot really compete and have that conversation.

"That brings an extra challenge and one you want to rise to meet.

"There are full-time clubs pushing on in their own way, so what we have to do at Coleraine, until such times as someone wants to come here and do the same, is to find a way of ensuring we can compete.

"So, again, the work we do at the club is time-consuming and the players work really hard on the nights we are in, but I also know the players do so much away from the club in terms of weight training and recovery and everything else that goes into it.

"We are able to bridge that gap so far and, thankfully, this season we don't look as if we are behind these teams or cannot compete.

"That's the challenge that we will have moving forward, to put as much in place to ensure we can continue to compete."

You don't have to look far in football to find pressure, whether it's related to survival or winning silverware.

Kearney can relate to both challenges.

"I look back on my time at St Mirren with a huge amount of pride, and the pressure of that run-in over the final games to turn it around and stay up was sadistically enjoyable," he added.

"I remember an early part of my time at Coleraine when things were not going particularly well.

"We went, I think, to Warrenpoint with 13 fit players and about eight games to go when we won 1-0 and held on.

"We got there and got over the line that season and I remember feeling that pressure.

"Cup finals and league runs are the opposite - they are joyous occasions and you've got to embrace everything that goes with it.

"You've the chance to get something that's very rewarding."

Tonight's final is a repeat of the 2012 decider which the Crues edged 1-0. Coleraine underperformed that day, and that's unlikely to happen this time round.

"On that occasion we were slightly young and inexperienced and Crusaders were the better side on the day, although I don't think they needed a huge performance," said Kearney.

"Crusaders were at a different stage of their cycle compared to us, with Stephen Baxter in charge for a lot longer. For the Crues winning that final, it was probably a catalyst. We felt the Irish Cup a few years ago was one hell of a springboard for us and, ideally, you want this to be the same.

"You are coming into a really important stage of the season, and the buzz since early December when we got to the final has helped to carry us through to this stage. It's a credit to the players we've managed to get into a major Cup final in my first season back at Coleraine. When I arrived back here there were still players from my first spell but also some players who had come in when I was away. The whole thing has come together, that buy-in from the players and togetherness from the word go.

"We got out of the blocks well at the start of the season and have been able to sustain it.

"We deserve to be in the final, performances to reach this stage have been really good across the League Cup run.

"There is a hunger to go and get another medal."

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