COLERAINE boss Oran Kearney expressed mixed emotions after the Bannsiders were awarded second place in the Danske Bank Premiership…
After the coronavirus pandemic ended the 2019/20 campaign, the NI Football League board ruled on Monday that the league would be ended and decided via a mathematical formula produced by an independent stats company – 21st Club.
The final standings mirror how the table looked following the most recent round of fixtures three months ago, meaning Coleraine finished in second place, four points behind champions Linfield.
Speaking to colerainefc.com, Kearney admitted he was proud of his players’ achievements as they secured European football for next season, but feels they would have ran Linfield close in the quest for the Gibson Cup.
“To be honest there’s definitely mixed feelings about the curtailment of the season,” he said.
“When I arrived last summer there was a re-jig in the playing squad and there were a lot of predictions that we would finish 7th or 8th.
“However, we added new players to the squad who were already here and they have applied themselves brilliantly.
“If you offered me a League Cup win, European qualification and an Irish Cup semi-final to come, I certainly would have taken it.
“In the other stretch, looking at the table and the fact we were only four points behind with seven games left, there will always be that feeling of ‘what if?’
“The team was in good form, we had a buzz around the place and I think we would have pushed Linfield to the wire.
“I’m sure Linfield having been in that position of holding a lead for many seasons would have backed their players to have got the job done, but it would have been nice to have a rattle at it, but it just wasn’t to be.
“I would like to congratulate Linfield on their success.”
The second-placed finish means the Stripes will compete in Europe for the third time in four seasons and Kearney believes this will help with plans both on and off the pitch.
“For a club like ours to have qualified for Europe in three of the last four years is a tremendous achievement,” he added.
“It is very important that we can reap the awards of that as there are clubs who have financial backing beyond European monies.
“We have plans to restructure the club at Academy level and there other initiatives that will help to take us to the next level.
“Qualifying for Europe this year is a hell of an achievement considering we lost a qualifying spot and the standard of the league keeps improving.
“The players got stronger and stronger as the season progressed and the January signings lifted us and there was a clear unity on the pitch.”
The IFA announced plans to play out the Irish Cup next month as Coleraine lock horns with Ballymena United at the National Stadium on July 27 (KO TBC).
With Coleraine last in action back in March, Kearney is looking forward to reuniting with the players.
“The news was probably the first little bit of clarity we have received in terms of how we move the players in and out of the club,” he concluded.
“I am looking forward to doing some training and getting the players back on the pitch.
“I am hoping that the experience of the League Cup final will stand the players in good stead and that they want to do that again.
“This year’s Irish Cup has been played up to this point so it’s an opportunity to put another medal in the pocket.”