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Kearney pleased to unearth another jewel

COLERAINE boss Oran Kearney admitted that he had no hesitation in giving Patrick Kelly his maiden start after the 17-year-old starred in Friday night’s win against Larne…

The Portstewart native – who has been utilised from the bench this season – was drafted into the starting eleven and didn’t disappoint as the Bannsiders moved up to second in the Danske Bank Premiership.

Kelly, who received a standing ovation when he was substituted late on, almost capped a fine display by grabbing a goal but he was thwarted by a smart save from Rohan Ferguson.

Some might have thought it was a big call to hand a first start to someone so young in a big fixture, but Kearney insists that Kelly “earned” his shirt in the starting eleven and was pictured embracing the youngster after he was replaced by Cathair Friel.

“There was no real thinking about it, he’s ready and he’s been ready for a period of time,” he said.

“I know it’s a cliche when you say age is no barrier, but he’s trained with us since last April/May time and he’s integrated well.

“It’s not one of those that you’re just throwing someone in because he’s been about it, or you’re trying to do something different.

“He’s earned it. He trains like a demon and is well-respected by all the players in there.

“More than anything though it was allowing him that bit of time to get the gist of the first team changing room and picking that right moment.

“I had this game earmarked from a few weeks ago thinking this would probably be the right one for him, and thankfully so.

“It’s okay coming on for cameos with 15 or 20 minutes here and there.

“He grew into the game tonight like you would expect him to do.

“He found it tough at the start, but he is a really strong character with a good mentality.

“He’s not loud, but has a real air of self-confidence which you love to see in a player.

“As the game goes on, and particularly in the second half you could see glimpses of the quality we know is there.”

Kearney, who helped nurture the likes of Lyndon Kane, Brad Lyons and Jamie McGonigle into senior football, acknowledged that Kelly has a football brain beyond his years.

“He’s just a cub. There was a lot of chat about him when he was 11 or 12,” he added.

“It was a similar story to Brad Lyons who disappeared off the radar for a while.

“I remember when we came back after lockdown we were training beside the Under-20s and he walked past me and you could see the development in him so I quickly brought him with me.

“You always knew the technical ability he had. He plays like a 26-year-old.

“His game appreciation, even in training, is so strong, but again it’s doing things that are right by him and not hanging him out to dry.

“That’s why we’ve had to put those three or four months of training into him to make sure he’s ready. so that when you do something like this you’re protecting him, and you’re not putting him into a scenario that’s tough on him.

“We’ve put him on in a lot of games with big crowds so he’s used to that, and tonight will stand him in good stead.”

Kearney admits that promoting local players adds to the feel good factor at the club and he is relishing watching his new midfielder develop at The Showgrounds.

“It’s brilliant as a manager to be able to see young players progressing, particularly when he is a local player as well,” he concluded.

“It was poetic tonight with Lyndon scoring the winning penalty at the Railway End and people hanging out over the rafters and everything else.

“That’s what Coleraine Football Club is all about because he is one of their own from the doorstep of the club and everything else.

“It’s so hard to find those jewels and to get them coming through because they have such an attachment to the club.

“Patrick is a Portstewart lad, he’s been at the club since he was four, and we look forward to hopefully seeing him develop and progress like the other players have done.”