Saturday was an emotional day for many people involved with Coleraine FC as they bid farewell to their long-serving manager Oran Kearney, who after seven and a half years in charge of the Bannsiders makes the move into full-time football with St Mirren.
With the Irish League being a mainly part-time league it is very rare we see managers who have spent the majority of their time playing and managing domestically make the move across the water but it is not unheard of. Two examples within the last ten years are former Limavady, Ballymena and Lisburn Distillery manager Tommy Wright, who is now at St Johnstone, and former Linfield manager Warren Feeney, who had a stint as manager of Newport County after leaving South Belfast. The difference is that Wright and Feeney had well-established careers across the water and at international level and also initially went across the water as assistant managers before stepping into the hot seat. Oran Kearney is the first example of a manager in my time following the Irish League who has made the move into professional football straight away.
Kearney had an impressive playing career with Ballymena United & Linfield and was part of the legendary Linfield Clean Sweep team in 2005/06, but unfortunately, injury forced him to cut short his playing career and he quickly made the move into management with Championship side Limavady United. Kearney immediately began to show his credentials as a manager as he turned a side that had finished second bottom the season before he took over into promotion candidates.
In February 2011 Coleraine, who were sitting third from bottom at the time, turned to Kearney after sacking David Platt and the rest, as they say, is history. Of course, it wasn’t all plain sailing for Kearney at Coleraine. He made an immediate impact as he guided the team to safety in those first few months and then guided the North Coast club to two consecutive top-six finishes and a League Cup final, but things began to stagnate with a couple of poor league campaigns. In December 2016, a poor run of league form culminated in a defeat to arch-rivals Ballymena United and many Coleraine supporters were calling for the manager’s head. In spite of that one man who remained steadfast in his support of Kearney was chairman Colin McKendry.
Since that defeat to Ballymena, Coleraine have enjoyed a phenomenal run of form having tasted defeat just three times in 54 domestic games since then, winning the Irish Cup in the process and being desperately unlucky not to win the league last season some may say.
Something that will stand Kearney in good stead in the professional game will be his ability to unearth promising young talent as well as some hidden gems such as Brad Lyons, who recently moved to Blackburn Rovers, Jamie McGonigle, a recent target for champions Crusaders and Lyndon Kane. As well as players such as Darren McCauley, Aaron Traynor and Gareth McConaghie who have all joined Coleraine having previously played in the lower tiers of Northern Irish football.
Kearney was interviewed by St Mirren for the post over the summer but missed out to former Everton player Alan Stubbs. The Buddies have had a poor start to their league campaign with three defeats from four and sit 11th in the table, only Dundee sit below them. Kearney, however, is not daunted by taking over a side struggling for form though; he has had to do that in both his previous managerial jobs, and has already stated that his long-term aim with St Mirren is to lead them to the league title.
Starts don’t get much tougher than the one Kearney is going to have as for his first game in charge his new side will be hosting champions and 2nd placed Celtic, in a game being shown live on BT Sport.
As Kearney prepares to get one over on fellow Northern Irishman Brendan Rodgers, Coleraine have already begun their search for his replacement. No doubt though, Kearney can expect a warm welcome anytime he returns to The Showgrounds.