'Our season will be defined by result of Irish Cup final': Coleraine boss Oran Kearney
Brendan Crossan: After narrowly missing out on the league title last weekend will it be difficult to lift your players for Saturday’s Irish Cup final?
Oran Kearney: No. Definitely not. I spoke to them briefly after the game. Firstly, I congratulated them all on their efforts... Somebody gave me the statistics: six out of the last 12 years we had enough points to win the league title.
On another year we could have been champions. It’s small margins.
So the performances to date and what the players have given me over the season has been fantastic. I know there’s a lot of hurt from last year’s cup final defeat [to Linfield] and I know it is fuel for the fire this year.
There won’t by any doom and gloom in our camp from last weekend – it is the absolute opposite.
BC: What’s your abiding memory of last year’s Irish Cup final?
OK: All aspects of it were really, really good.
The standard of our performances last year and the consistency of our performances had been really, really high.
I’ve held my hands up many a time that Linfield were the better side on the day. We were young and it showed.
As much as our boys didn’t realise it at the time, the cup final experience was probably the equivalent to 30 or 40 appearances, especially to the younger members of the squad and it’s turned out that way because they’ve catapulted themselves.
We’ve gone from strength to strength from then and we’re in a different place now, we’re a different team.
Not different people – we’re the same people – but we’ve a different mentality because of the experiences we’ve been through in the last 18 months.
And the last six or eight weeks is testament to that – the whole season is testament to that, the mental strength that we’ve shown to go right to the wire with Crusaders speaks volumes.
BC: Is it easy to ‘park’ that disappointment of going so close to winning the league?
OK: It is parked. For me, it was parked by about Saturday evening by the time I got home. I’m in sport long enough through school [he teaches at Cross & Passion College, Ballycastle] and football and everything else to know that time doesn’t stand still.
We’ve had many successes at school at Ulster and All-Ireland level and we’ve had disappointments as well.
That’s why we’re in sport. Whether you like it or not, sport builds character. You’ve got no choice but to have character, or you quit playing sport. It’s as simple as that. I see that at school and I see the journey our players have been on at the club as being exactly the same.
BC: I’m sure you’re not even contemplating defeat against Cliftonville on Saturday, but when you sit back and reflect on the year does everything have to be measured in silverware?
OK: For me, yes. Has this been a successful season? If we win an Irish Cup on Saturday I would class it as a successful season. I don’t buy into what everybody else says. It’s black or white – you win or lose. Real progress for me this season is putting a cup on the table. I’ll be saying exactly the same to the players.
BC: In doing so you not reduce your season to 90 minutes?
OK: That’s sport. That’s the statistical environment we find ourselves in. Yes, we’ve been going from the start of June last year – almost 11 months. But how we class our season as a success or failure will be based on 90 minutes at the end of those 11 months. We’re all aware of that fact.
BC: You’ve been Coleraine manager for over seven years now. What is the most pleasing element about this current group of players?
OK: It was important in getting the identity back into the club. It’s something that we tried to do from the word go. We possibly didn’t have the talent in the area at the start of my tenure, and then we had a real good group that came through that I had my eye on from the very start… We had the best defence in the league this year.
You look at Chris Johns [goalkeeper] who arrived back from Southampton, went to Bangor, and we brought Chris in. I told him that I didn’t have a number two. Win, lose or draw, I told him he would develop a lot quicker than anywhere else.
And he has already hit 100 appearances for us in two-and-a-half seasons. There’s Lyndon Kane [right back] and Gareth McConaghie [central defender] played a load of junior and intermediate football and when the time was right made the step up. The same with Stephen O’Donnell [central defender] at Institute and Aaron Traynor [Left back] who flirted about with Carrick and Warrenpoint.
All of a sudden we’d put together a back five that has been fantastic this season.
BC: Are you superstitious?
OK: No, I wouldn’t be. I believe it’s about who turns up on the big days. I suppose I have a routine before games but would I call it a superstition? I don’t do it for any other reason bar that I need to do it to get to the game on Saturday. Our pre-match runs like clockwork and I think that’s important for days like Saturday.
BC: Have you the team picked in your head for the Irish Cup final?
OK: I had the team pretty much picked by eight o’clock on Saturday night.
BC: In your seven-and-a-half years, what was the lowest point during your tenure. There was a time when a section of fans were critical of you?
OK: There are always frustrations at times. Fans pay their money and they’ll voice their opinions. I’d no issue with any of that. It was more frustration for me in trying to get it right for the club and for the chairman [Colin McKendry].
We had a vision and we had an idea but it was going to take time and it has taken time to do that. It’s nice now to be at the other side of that where it has come to fruition and people can see what we were trying to do.
More than me, huge credit has to go to the chairman who stood strong. He was a massive shield to me and wasn’t taking any of it at any stage.
BC: Can you enjoy the build up to the final? Will you enjoy it more than last year?
OK: It takes care of itself. It is a different day and everyone wants to be a part of it. It’s so different in all aspects. You have to soak up some of it but I also think you have to focus on the important thing which is playing the match.