‘The Future’s Bright, The Future’s Oran’ reads the banner and the sentiment nails the feeling of optimism around The Showgrounds right on the head.
Coleraine are are preparing for the IRN-BRU League Cup final and are riding high in the league as we approach the first anniversary of the appointment of Oran Kearney and his coaching staff.
It’s been a hell of a 12 months for the Ballymoney man. When he agreed to take over the reins at the Ballycastle Road last February he knew he had a big job on his hands. The team were short on confidence and were sitting too close for comfort to the foot of the table.
But Kearney knew the club had potential, it’s one of the main reasons he agreed to take over. And under his leadership it is finally starting to realise that potential, even though he admited it’s happened a little sooner than he expected.
“If you had told me when I took over at the start of last February we’d be sitting just 12 months later with a real chance of winning a major piece of silverware I would have said you were crazy,” Kearney told Times Sport.
“Obviously long term that was always our ambition. Everyone knows the potential here at Coleraine what with it’s fan base and the way the club is run.
“This club has always been considered one of the biggest in the country. It should be up there challenging for honours.
“But for us to be have a real chance of winning something just a year into the job is fantastic.
“The beauty of cup competitions is you maybe only have to win a couple of games to get into the business end of things. And if you get favourable draws your job can be made a lot easier.
“But I don’t think we’ve had an easy ride to the final. Playing both the Glens and Cliftonville away from home were big tests for us.
“We came through it with flying colours though and have definitely earned our place in the final.
“The big thing now though is to keep it going. We don’t want to throw all that hard work away by not performing in the final.
“It’s going to be tough. Crusaders are a tough team and will probably be classed as favourites. They have some big game players, and even this season they played in front of a big crowd against Fulham in the Europa League.
“We haven’t managed to beat during my time here as manager. But it was the same with Cliftonville before we beat them twice in a matter of days.
“We’ll be well up for it that’s for sure. For me the pressure is off now, the pressure was getting to the final. Now we can relax and enjoy the day and play our football.”
Kearney’s determination to bring success to Coleraine was highlighted further last week when he put pen to paper on a three-and-a-half year contract.
“I’m delighted to sign the contract,” said Kearney.
“There was absolutely no hesitation in signing. I know given my links with Linfield as a player people are always assuming that’s where I want to be, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
“I grew up just up the road in Ballymoney and Coleraine were the team I looked out for.
“I’m very happy here. The last 12 months have been great, but I feel there’s even better to come.
“The club is heading in a very positive direction right through from the Academy to the first team.
“The most important thing is that everyone has bought into it. We know what we want to achieve as a football club and everyone is working hard to achieve it.
“We may be a bit ahead of schedule but it won’t stop us continuing to work hard to achieve those goals and drive this club forward to where it needs to be.”
Kearney is no stranger to collecting silverware having won every major honour in the local game during his spell at Windsor Park.
He won the League Cup twice during that spell and siad it would be nice to complete the hat-trick as a manager.
“I won the cup for the first time during the ‘Clean Sweep’ season with the Blues,” recalled Kearney.
“We beat Glentoran 3-1 in the final, so that was a pretty memorable day for me.
“In my second final we actually beat Crusaders 3-2. It was another game which will live long in the memory as we were losing 2-1 until near the end.
“With four minutes to go I flicked on a corner for Glenn Ferguson to score the equaliser and what was his 500th career goal.
“And with a minute to go ‘Spike’ struck again to seal the win. So the League Cup has a lot of happy memories for me.
“I want to add to that on Saturday. It will mean a lot to win it again as manager of Coleraine.
“It has been an eventful ride for us to get here.
“We had a tricky start away to Newry. They were flying at the time but the lads produced a professional performance to seal a 3-0 win. I suppose the stand out moment was Howard’s goal. That was his first and only goal to date, but it was vitally important as it gave us a big lift on the night.
“Against Knockbreda we didn’t really get going and probably could have been a goal down. But Shane came off the bench to score and it lifted us as well as knock them.
“The games against Glentoran and Cliftonville will long be remembered. Again we struggled in the first half at The Oval, but to their credit the boys produced the goods in the second half.
“Johnny Black scored another super goal and the skipper headed in the winner. But we’ve Michael Doherty to thank for his penalty save, that was a major turning point.
“I don’t think many were giving us much of a chance against Cliftonville, but we were confident of going and getting a result, and the boys didn’t let us down.
“The weather made it a very difficult night. Tommo put us in front and it looked like we had asnwers for every question Cliftonville posed.
“Unfortuntely they got the penalty to equalise, but the lads didn’t wilt, they actually got stronger and there looked like being only one winner in extra time.
“It looked as though it was going to penalties, but up stepped Johnny again with another super goal.”
Kearney is also urging the fans to really get behind their team on the day, just as they have done all through this cup run.
“The fans have been ansolutely superb all through this competition,” he said.
“The players still talk about the nights at the Oval and Solitude in particular.
“They really played their part in helping us get through. You can’t underestimate the role they play.
“The noise our fans generate is immense and we all get a massive lift because of it.
“That’s why it is so important we got the extra tickets for the final.
“There is going to be a real wall of noise around the ground now and hopefully most of that will be coming from our fans.
“And with the temporary stand behind one of the goals it will be intimidating for the Crues players.
“So I’d ask all the fans to be loud and proud on the day and cheer us on to victory!”