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Oran Kearney future in limbo after row with Saints

Sticking point: Oran Kearney wants to continue travelling home at weekends
Sticking point: Oran Kearney wants to continue travelling home at weekends

By Steven Beacom

Oran Kearney was cheered to the rafters by St Mirren fans last month after the club secured their Scottish Premiership status thanks to a penalty shoot-out success against Dundee United.

Following a dramatic campaign full of ups and downs, Kearney had achieved what he was recruited to do - keep the Buddies in the top flight.

It was an incredible feat. Remember, when the 40-year-old arrived at St Mirren from Coleraine in September, the place was in turmoil following the sacking of Alan Stubbs just a few matches into his reign.

Kearney's first match was a scoreless draw at home to a Celtic side that would go on to complete the treble treble.

Then came a run of defeats and a feeling across Scotland that St Mirren were on their way to the Championship having been promoted under Jack Ross the season before.

In January, the former Linfield midfielder brought in a host of new players, and in the final months the Paisley outfit produced a fabulous run that moved them away from bottom spot and into 11th, guaranteeing themselves a shot at Dundee United in the play-offs.

On home turf and in the second leg, Kearney's men overcame the Tannadice side in the shoot-out - Miracle on Love Street for those who still think of the stadium's old name.

And what an achievement for Kearney in his first season in full-time football. As they floated away from St Mirren Park that night, the jubilant supporters wondered what the Ulsterman would do next.

They may never get the chance to find out because Kearney is on the brink of leaving the club after the breakdown of his relationship with chairman Gordon Scott.

The chief problem relates to Kearney travelling back and forth from Scotland to Northern Ireland at weekends to spend time with his wife Lauren and their children.

The family didn't move to Scotland when Kearney was appointed 10 months ago and have no intention of doing so.

Given what he delivered, it is no surprise that the ex-Coleraine manager is confident that he can be a success again continuing with the commute.

Scott, who has a 51% stake in the club, does not see it that way and wants Kearney to live permanently in Scotland. The different viewpoints have led to such a serious fall-out that Kearney, popular with fans and players, could be exiting weeks after producing one of the most memorable success stories in St Mirren's recent history.

It is understood that Kearney has been left surprised and disappointed by developments, with the issue coming to a head in a midweek meeting attended by both the boss and chairman which was originally intended to discuss the season ahead.

Since Rodney McAree was sacked as Coleraine manager over six weeks ago, there has been speculation about Kearney returning to the club where he enjoyed Irish Cup success.

After a recent family holiday, however, Kearney made it clear to friends that his intention was to stay with St Mirren. He made pre-season plans which included a friendly against the Bannsiders at the Showgrounds next Saturday and was lining up players to sign.

Kearney's first season in Scottish football had been a challenge but he had come out of it smiling and was determined to give it another go. The aim was not to be in a relegation battle this time around.

According to those close to him, however, the last week has been his "most difficult time at the club". Unless there is a quick resolution between manager and chairman, Kearney's time at St Mirren could be coming to an end.

No wonder Coleraine followers have been keeping a close eye. They would welcome Kearney back with open arms.

The news of Kearney's possible departure came on the same day Coleraine released a statement about their own managerial situation.

The Bannsiders had considered former Northern Ireland stars Steve Lomas and Warren Feeney, currently the Ards boss, along with ex-Cliftonville managers Gerard Lyttle and Barry Gray, but it turned out their prime target was Dundalk No.2 Ruaidhri Higgins.

Coleraine revealed they had sought permission to speak to him about their vacancy, but the League of Ireland outfit refused.

Whether ex-Derry City and Coleraine midfielder Higgins forces Dundalk's hand remains to be seen. In the meantime, backroom staff William Murphy, Trevor McKendry and Paul Owens will lead the team who are back for pre-season training on Tuesday.

The Coleraine statement read: "During the last fortnight we were in discussion with Dundalk FC seeking permission to speak with Ruaidhri Higgins but this was refused.

"We were unable to pursue this any further and, like ourselves, we believe Dundalk see his potential. We wish him and Dundalk FC every success."

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