ORAN Kearney has condemned the abuse meted out to striker Leon Knight following last week’s League Cup semi final.
In the aftermath of the Bannsiders excellent 2-1 win Johnny Black, who scored the dramatic winner, was assaulted by a Cliftonville fan and several other Reds supporters had skirmishes on the pitch with stewards.
But in the fallout from the disgraceful scenes Knight came in for unjust criticism by some sections of the media and he was also subjected to vile racist abuse on the social networking site Twitter.
Kearney though was quick to defend his front man and told Times Sport he doesn’t understand why Knight is being made the scapegoat for Tuesday night’s trouble.
“Some of the abuse Leon has had to put up with since the game has been shocking,” said Kearney.
“Certain sections of the media have tried to pin the blame on him for everything that happened on Tuesday night, and I don’t know why for Leon celebrated no more than any of the rest of our players and staff.
“It was a massive result for us and one which meant we had just reached a cup final, of course we were going to be jubilant. But as I said Leon’s celebrations were in keeping with the rest of the team.
“As far as goading the home support as he walked up to the tunnel I couldn’t disagree more. I was right behind Leon as he made his way to the tunnel and he didn’t do anything out of the ordinary.
“The players and staff did exactly the same thing they did at the Oval in the last round by clapping our board and the home support who were clapping us back.”
Kearney added the sick racist taunts that Knight was subjected to on Twitter have no place in football or today’s society.
“Leon would be the first to admit he enjoys the banter on Twitter and he tweeted after the game celebrating our win, but he kept it to strictly football,” he said.
“Unfortunately some people replied with vile racist comments which have no place in sport or society.
“Certain reporters were quick to highlight Leon’s tweets about referees in the past, but I didn’t see too many talking about the racism aimed at him in the reports following the game.
“It seems Leon is some sort of pantomime villain for parts of the media. The reports that have surfaced since last Tuesday have done nothing to help the situation which I thought was handled extremely well by both clubs.”
Meanwhile Kearney has praised defender Johnny Black (right) for the professionalism and dignity he showed following Tuesday night’s game.
“He did the warm up but he didn’t realise how sore his groin was after Saturday,” said Kearney.
“We didn’t know if he would last 10 or 15 minutes let alone 120. But he concentrated on his job and his final flourish was brilliant.
“He has a diamond of a left foot, and his passing is always pin-point. He is also a diamond fella as well and all the lads love him.
“It was a tough week for him, especially as we should have been talking about his winning goal.
“But he showed what he’s all about again on Saturday when he stepped up and slotted home what was a pressure penalty.”
Black’s winner on Tuesday sparked wild celebrations and in the midst of it was boss Kearney who admitted he just couldn’t miss out on what he called a ‘monumental’ moment.
“Moments like that are monumental and you never forget them,” he said.
“So the place to be is in the middle of the celebrations. It didn’t feel right to be celebrating standing where I was, so I just had to make that dash to join the celebrations.
Looking ahead to next month’s final with Crusaders, which will be played at Ballymena Showgrounds, Kearney added: “Crusaders are a quality side. They defeated us well towards the end of last season, and we have drawn with twice this season.
“They are a big, strong side and Stephen (Baxter) has them well drilled and it will be a tough match.
“But we are delighted to be in a final. It is a realistic chance of silverware. Over 38 games in the league we are not going to win the title, but a cup competition is a viable target for Coleraine.”
Kearney is delighted to get a big day out especially for the hard work of his backroom staff and the dedication of the Coleraine fans.
“I stand at the front and speak to the media and probably get a lot of the credit, but it is a real team effort,” he said.
“I’m delighted for Trevor, who has worked at Portstewart and the lower levels of football for years and is as good a coach as I’ve worked with.
“He’s obviously a Coleraine fan and he’s worked very hard to get to where he is now and he really deserves a shot at success like this.
“The same goes for Wes, who is Coleraine through-and-through and grew up just a stone’s throw away from The Showgrounds, he’s had a big impact since he came here.
“Greg has been a brilliant person to have about the changing room and his professionalism in coaching has been a great asset.
“Alan Millar has worked miracles with different players at various times this year and the work Damien does is second to none and he tends to the players like they were his sons. He’s been at the club for so many years and it’s great to be able to give him another big day at the cup final.
“And for so many Coleraine fans to make a 120 mile round trip a week and a half before Christmas is absolutely phenomenal,” he added.
“The players couldn’t get over how good the atmosphere was and I’m sure the night will live long in the memory of everyone who was there.
“It’s a big commitment, travelling so far when the weather is so bad and we’re just delighted we were able to give them something to shout about and a cup final to look forward to.”
Kearney will be hoping his side can match Saturday’s league win at Solitude when they entertain Glentoran tonight (Tuesday) at The Showgrounds kick off 7.45pm. Michael Doherty and Johnny Black are doubts but Stephen Lowry should be fit.