Coleraine: Time to raise the bar again, says Kearney
The excitement of last season will live long in the memory for Coleraine fans, but for boss Oran Kearney it has now been consigned to the history books.
The Bannsiders certainly had a season to remember as they reached the Irish Cup final, secured a return to European football and finished third in the league.
For Kearney though it’s now about building on that success and making it the norm and not an exception.
“When the final whistle went on the second leg of the European game I told the players that was closure on the buzz of last season,” he told the News Letter.
“The slate is now wiped clean and we have to start again.
“For me, as much as we will touch back to talk about certain things which were good from last season, it’s now in the history books.
“I think people will be more wary of us now and try that wee bit harder against us because of the season we have just had.
“The players know it is important the players raise their game to be ready for that.
“We have been driving it home to the boys all pre-season that what is done is done.
“We now have to set the bar for the next one, and it’s so important that we go again and up it another level.”
The Bannsiders face a tough start with trips to Dungannon Swifts and Crusaders either side of a home clash with Cliftonville.
But, as Kearney admitted, there are no easy games in this league.
A 4-0 thumping by the Swifts at Stangmore at the start of last season still looms large in Kearney’s mind.
“In the six-and-a-half years I’ve been here I’ve never looked at a fixture and thought ‘happy days we’re playing such and such this week’,” he said.
“It’s getting tighter and tighter in this league and the standards are getting raised.
“There will be a lot of teams pushing for the top three and just because we got it last year doesn’t mean we have any right to do it again this season.
“Dungannon are always a threat. They turned us over at Stangmore Park at the start of last season, it was a very tough day for us, so we are very clear on the task that lies ahead.”
Coleraine’s pre-season has been blighted by injury, but finally there is some light at the end of the tunnel.
“We are down on numbers with the injuries but we will be in a similar position to where we were against Linfield,” said Kearney.
“Injuries are part and parcel of football, we dodged them for a lot of last season.
“We will have to get through the first couple of weeks but we should be okay after that.
“We had six guys sitting in the stand at The Oval, which puts a strain on any squad.
“It’s been a big step up for the new guys as they were straight into Europe and then straight into games like this. It has been a steep learning curve for them but one that has been good.
“I’m happy with how the new guys have settled.
“It was good to get them involved on Saturday.
“David Ogilby is unavailable for Dungannon so it was important Stephen got to sample a big game atmosphere along with Aaron and Josh.
“Along with Darren McCauley, Josh has played a lot of minutes in pre-season so we wanted to wrap them in cotton wool a bit today as they are two vital players for us.
“It was great to see Josh grab a goal, we need midfielders popping up with goals and getting into double figures for the season.
“There will be a big onus on Josh to do that.”