'I love it here': Oran Kearney shoots down Coleraine links after steering St Mirren to survival
In the aftermath of their nail-biting Scottish Premiership survival, St Mirren boss Oran Kearney has signalled his intent to stay on at the Paisley club.
With his wife Lauren and young children Luca and Ava still living in Northern Ireland, Kearney had been linked with a return to former club Coleraine when the Bannsiders parted company with his successor Rodney McAree earlier this month.
However, chairman Colin McKendry last week said that he did not expect Kearney to be in the frame for the job and the man himself has confirmed those suspicions in the aftermath of his St Mirren side's penalty shoot-out success.
After a 1-1 aggregate draw with Dundee United in the promotion/relegation play-off, St Mirren goalkeeper Vaclav Hladky save three of United's four spot-kicks to help St Mirren to victory.
It marked the end of a stunning survival bid that was somewhat unlikely when Kearney took the reigns of a squad that seemed ill-equipped for Scotland's top tier.
His achievement in avoiding relegation has unsurprisingly made Kearney a hit with Buddies fans and he's assured those supporters that he's going nowhere.
"I love it here," he said. "I knew what I was letting myself in for. The problem is I have a lovely wife and lovely kids and I have to do a bit of commuting.
"But I can sort that and i knew what I signed up for from that point of view.
"Speculation is always going to be there, but when I made the step to want to do this I wanted to give it my all and that’s what I intend to do."
After a slow start that brought just a point from Kearney's first eight games, a January signing spree of no less than 11 players led to a sharp upturn in form.
The side even ended the campaign with their longest unbeaten run of top tier games since 2006 (running over from the end of their relegation in 2001). Six games without defeat became eight in the play-offs. Celtic are the only team to have got the better of Kearney's men since March.
It's little wonder, really, that Kearney reckons such an achievement will go down in club history.
“I said in the dressing room after the game that firstly, it was credit to the players who have been here all season and also credit to the players who came in in January,” he said.
“Between us, we managed to gather some momentum at the right time of the season and carry that through.
“I don’t think they will realise what an achievement this is for months, years.
“It might be five, 10 years down the line when they really understand the turnaround we had this season and what it led to today. I am delighted for everybody at the club.”
Included in those January recruits was Slovan Liberec goalkeeper Vaclav Hladky, who arrived from Czech side Slovan Liberec and proved the side's hero on Sunday, saving three of Dundee United's four penalties.
"You get that gut feeling when it goes to extra time," Kearney said.
"It has been well-documented that Vaclav has had a tough time in the last couple of months and sometimes you just feel things are written in the stars and I was very confident when it went to penalties.
"I just thought he had the big saves in him.
"I am delighted for him on a personal level and that type of performance probably puts him down in history."
After the sides had fought out a goalless draw at Tannadice on Thursday night, United attacker Nicky Clark scored from the spot in the 23rd minute, before Saints forward Danny Mullen levelled three minutes later.
There were no more goals after the break, nor in extra-time, with Saints substitute Duckens Nazon given a straight red card by referee John Beaton after 114 minutes for his challenge on United defender Mark Connolly.
In the tension-filled shoot-out, Hladky made saves from Peter Pawlett, Pavol Safranko and Callum Booth, with Osman Sow hitting the post.
Paul McGinn and Mihai Popescu scored for the home side, which ultimately rendered Mateo Muzek’s strike against the woodwork irrelevant.
Belfast Telegraph Digital