COLERAINE boss Oran Kearney will be hoping to land his second piece of silverware as the Bannsiders face Crusaders this evening…
The two sides lock horns for the second time in a League Cup final, with Kearney remembering the first clash, which was won by the North Belfast side as Chris Morrow’s effort separated the two sides at the Ballymena Showgrounds.
“I remember the previous final well and we underperformed that day,” Kearney reflected.
“I took charge in February 2011 and saw the season out, there was maybe a little bit of a scare as were in tenth position, but we had a good run to the end of the campaign.
“We made a few changes in the summer and got to the Irn-Bru League Cup final against Crusaders at the Ballymena Showgrounds and I remember they had to put up temporary standing.
“I think on that occasion we were probably slightly young and inexperienced for it and on the day Crusaders were the better side and I don’t think they needed a huge performance as they had a solid 1-0 lead and had further chances.
“All in all, it probably ended up being an anti-climax.”
That victory helped kick-start a prolonged period of success for Crusaders and Kearney is hopeful this could be the same for his troops.
“They were at a different stage of their cycle in relation to where we were at in 2012,” Kearney continued.
“Stephen had been there a lot longer and again for them winning that League Cup final, I think they had lost a few finals before that and that win was the turning point for them.
“For us, you would hope that the Irish Cup win was a springboard for the club and ideally you want this to be the same.
“We are coming into a really important stage of the season and the buzz since early December ever since we got to the final has helped us carry through December and January.
“Ideally if we can go and win it, the buzz off the back end of that would be brilliant moving into the final parts of the season.”
In the pre-match press conference for the final, the Ballymoney man acknowledged pressure points during his first spell in charge and believes that cup finals are to be enjoyed.
“I remember a stage with Coleraine in my first few seasons where things weren’t going particularly well,” he added.
“I think we went to Warrenpoint with 13 fit players and about 8 games to go which was far too close to the end to make sure we were mathematically secure.
“I remember we won 1-0 that day through a goal from Gareth Tommons and we held on for a real epic result and we got over the line.
“That was pressure and I remember that week feeling pressure.
“I think cup finals for me are the opposite, they are joyous occasions and league runs are joyous occasions, where you have to embrace the challenge and the magnitude of the game and all that goes with it to try and get something that’s very rewarding.”
With the Bannsiders still competing on all three fronts, Kearney, a twice winner of the competition as a player, heaped praise on his players for their efforts since he returned from St Mirren.
“It is pleasing, big time,” he emphasised.
“I think that’s all credit to the players from the very start of the season.
“When I arrived back there was quite a few of the players who were there from the time before, but there were a few new players who weren’t there.
“The way the whole thing has come together and how the buy in and togetherness we have got from the players has been brilliant from the word go.
“We got out of the blocks well at the start of the season and have been able to sustain it.
“I think we deserve to be in the final, our performances in the competition have been really good, but our boys will know from the taste we’ve had before that there is a hunger and a want there to go and get another medal.”
With other clubs currently full-time, Kearney is fully aware that the Stripes are having to bridge that gap but has been impressed with how his players have gone about their business.
“It is definitely raising the bar and from a financial point of view, probably in my nine years in charge, you would have always hoped you would be able to speak to the majority of players or had a chance with someone, but maybe piped at the post by other clubs,” he concluded.
“But now you’re probably in an environment where there are certain players speaking to other clubs that you can’t compete with, or you can’t have that conversation with because we aren’t really there.
“I think with that it, it brings an extra challenge and one you want to rise too, and yes there are clubs who are full-time currently and they are pushing on in their own way.
“I suppose what we have to do as a club is until such time as we find someone who wants to step in and do that with our club, we’ve got to find a way to compete with these teams.
“Again, it’s all credit to the players, the work we do at the club is time consuming and the players work really hard on the nights we are in, but I know the players put a huge amount of work in away from the club in relation to weight training and recovery.
“We are able to bridge that gap and thankfully so far this season, we haven’t been caught out that way and been that you could say ‘oh we look behind those teams, or we can’t compete with these teams’ and that’s the challenge we will have moving forward.
“I suppose there could be some people in Coleraine terms that say ‘what if I hadn’t gone away for that year where could we be now’ but for me, the key thing is making up for lost time.
“We had a good transfer window in the summer and I feel we had a good transfer window in January and we are starting to bring in real good quality and starting to get that depth back to the squad that we possibly had two years ago.
“The big challenge for us is that ability to hang onto the coat tails of the big hitters.”