Cliftonville - The Breslin Effect


Dec 5, 2022
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When Paddy McLaughlin quit Solitude after three years in charge of The Reds, the appointment of North Antrim native David McToal was a shock. The former Ballycastle Utd player was not even on the radar of bookmakers, when unveiled in North Belfast. Having cut his managerial teeth in Play By Mail IOTP in the mid 90's, he had mixed fortune with Ipswich Town before some relative success with Charlton Athletic. Consecutive League Cup wins and beaten finalists the next season, during a four year spell at The Valley would ensure his name in folklore there. Having gained prominence for recruiting big names, his career had seen some of the worlds best turn out in his sides. Players like Ian Wright, Paul Gascoigne, Claudio Branco, Henrik Larsson & Michael Reizinger. Following his spell at Charlton, various iterations of Championship Manager & Football Manager followed, where Wigan Athletic, Glasgow Celtic, Coleraine, Glentoran, Carrick Rangers & H&W Welders came under his tutelage. Unparalleled success followed, with numerous domestic honours and appearances among the elite European clubs in group stages of UEFA's illustrious Champions League and Europa Cup.
It was in these achievements that Chairman Paul McKeown saw the man to guide Cliftonville into the next chapter of their football history and recapture the heady days experienced under club stalwart Tommy Breslin, the man to kickstart "The Breslin Effect"

July 2022;
Thrown straight in at the deep end, there was little time for the manager to get to grips with the squad before hosting Gibraltar champions St Joseph, in the Europa Conference League 1st Qualifying Round.
Cruising in the first half and leading 4-1, St Josephs threatened to spoil the hard work by forcing themselves back into the tie. Rory Hale scoring an injury time 5th made the tie a little easier. Some defensive frailties were on show as The Saints exposed Cliftonville's back 4 on numerous occasions.
JoeThe Goal to the fore again as the big frontman's hat-trick snuffed any life out of the tie. A late consolation for St Joseph's, following Ronan Hale making it 4-0.

A crowd of thirty one people had amassed at Solitude to welcome the new manager, where amid a sea of red & white he gave this interview to The Irish News.

"Yea, y'know its been kinda mental, the last few days like. At forty two youre thinking that maybe the big opportunities have passed you by. I mean y'know youre watching the games on a Saturday on a dodgy Firestick, from some obscure angle at Taylors Avenue, cameraman wiping the lens in the pishing rain with a bit of kleenex, and then the next Paul's on the blower getting me to shoot up the M2. Its crazy how it all come about to be honest. We have a good side here with some top quality and to be given the opportunity to take charge here is fantastic. Obviously its a hard act to follow, there have been a few club legends in the hotseat before me and i just have to give it my all and seeif we can bring some success to the club. Its been a while since a league title has been to Solitude, 2014 the last. Paddy narrowly missed out last year with Linfield making it four straight. Y'know that has to be our focus, the league title is the one we want and i think there's a title in this squad, we just need to put in the effort. Larne, Linfield, Crusaders and Glentoran all all big clubs who will be looking at that as well. We'll be happy to fly under the radar a bit and see what happens. We've lost a few boys over the Summer and some new faces have been brought in. Obviously there wont be many drastic changes at this stage and ill be getting to know the lads over the coming weeks. Whether we'll bring in anyone i dont know, if the right individual becomes available we might do something, but economically times are tough and it may be a case of suck it and see as regards transfer activity."
A tight tie in Switzerland gives The Reds something to take back to Solitude
A late comeback to draw ultimately sees Cliftonville fall short, exiting the competition but exceeding expectations. Young Boys were given a tough test and the manager wont be too disheartened by the performance against a much more seasoned opponent. Cliftonville are rumoured to have banked in excess of £450k for their foray into the Second Qualifying Round.

Cliftonville Kits, 2022-23
Current manager & previous Carrick Rangers boss.
The late Tommy Breslin
Fans greeting the new manager

With the league campaign set to get underway in August, all eyes will be at The Showgrounds where Oran Kearney's Coleraine host Cliftonville in the opening fixture.


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August 2022;

August would see the league campaign kick off, with Cliftonville supporters hopeful of a strong start. The Reds travelled up the M2 to Coleraine, expectant of a result against Oran Kearney's Bannsiders. The travelling fans numbering 145 would however be ultimately disappointed, Cliftonville shipping two goals in the opening 17 mins. Persistent defensive frailties resurfacing again, as the home side laid siege to Nathan Gartside's goal. Stevie Mallon pulled one back for The Reds and after significant improvement Cliftonville attacked with gusto, however to no avail as Kearney's men hung on to record a narrow win. Despondent Cliftonville supporters exited onto Ballycastle Road and boarded the coaches hopeful of better days ahead. The new manager had just been brought crashing back to earth, following the promising displays in Europe only weeks earlier. Much work would have to be done on the training ground, if the club was to challenge for a top end finish.

Cliftonville pushed on from their opening day defeat and recorded wins in their next three straight Danske Premier encounters. Free flowing football in a new 4-4-2 system saw them create chances in abundance, of which the front players of Gormley, Hale and Curran excelled. Distillery succumbed to a heavy 4-1 defeat in the League Cup Second Round. Thirteen goals in those four games saw only four conceded, but again exposing weakness at the back. Johnny Addis coming in for notable criticism from the media and supporters alike.

Transfer Trail;

Despite playing down transfer talk, the new manager was in discussions with the Board and a number of English clubs over potential loan deals. During the month a number of key acquisitions were made, arriving in North Belfast for minimal fees. Negotiations brought in the following;
Layton Stewart, 19yr old Liverpool YTS
Liam Hughes, Craigavon born Liverpool YTS
Ollie O'Neill, Fulham academy graduate
Jake Cain, Liverpool YTS player who made 25 Apps with Newport Co. in 2021-22
Lamar Bogarde, Dutch CB previously of Feyenoord and nephew of Winston Bogarde
September 2022;

Cliftonville entered September in good form, having pushed on from their opening day defeat at Coleraine. League fixtures against Portadown, The Glens, Glenavon and Linfield would prove to be a stern test for the team, under the new regime. The Reds exceeded all expectation again picking up maximum points, as fans and pundits alike were surprised by the clinical efficiency of Cliftonville's dynamic brand of football.

Sweeping victories, including a pulsating 3-1 win over rivals Glentoran set the scene for the final league fixture of the month. Cliftonville topped the Danske Premier when they travelled across the city to fierce rivals Linfield. David Healy's Blues, while having a stuttering start to the season would prove the biggest challenge of the season so far. Linfield three points behind Cliftonville could close the gap and elevate themselves to second spot with a win over their North Belfast rivals. The encounter would become known as;


Cliftonville stepped off the bus at Windsor Park as league leaders, three points clear of the current league holders. It would take a massive effort to get a result, with the media predicting a draw the most likely outcome.
Windsor Park, Belfast
Linfield supporters

Johnny Addis led The Reds out into a ferocious cauldron of noise, as in excess of six thousand fans made their voices heard. Both sets of supporters clamouring for the win. The Cliftonville lineup;

L Hughes, L Ives, L Turner, J Addis (c), K Lowe, S Mallon, O O'Neill, Rory Hale, J McDonagh, R Curran, J Gormley

Curran and Gormley kicked off and Cliftonville immediately set out their stall. Ronan Hale swept forward and when Jamie McDonagh placed a dangerous cross into the box, Gormley turned home the opener to give Cliftonville an early advantage, a mere 23 seconds on the clock.

The first half remained an even contest as both sides battled hard, several yellow cards brandished by the official as tackles began to fly.
When play resumed in the second half Linfield were quick out of the blocks, Jordan Stewart capitalizing on slack marking by Lowe. Stewart broke through at pace and claimed an equalizer, rounding a hapless Hughes in the Cliftonville goal.

Just after the hour Cliftonville regained the lead. A looping ball forward by O'Neill found McDonagh in the area, who sent it towards the back post. Stewart on for Gormley on the hour, turned it back across goal where Ryan Curran was on hand to nod home the second.

With just over tens minutes remaining, Cliftonville were awarded a free kick in a dangerous position. Jake Cain on loan from Liverpool and introduced to the fray in place of Mallon stepped up. As the ball thundered past Johns in the Linfield goal the supporters went wild, a major upset on the cards and moving further ahead at the top of the table.

At that stage it looked like the contest was over but Linfield are never beaten until the final whistle and when Vertainen latched onto a Millar cross from deep minutes later, the tie was very much back in the balance. Cliftonville hung on for the remaining period despite six minutes of added time in which the game flowed end to end. A remarkable win for The Reds in this a first crunch encounter with the league holders, which saw no less than nine yellow cards awarded.



A comprehensive win over a lacklustre Dumbarton followed, to end the month in style. The season is beginning to look promising for Cliftonville, though pundits have drawn attention to a slim squad which could suffer should they pick up a few injuries. January signings may be a possibility, if they still top the table in the New Year.


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October 2022;

Flying high and experiencing a tremendous run of form, Cliftonville started October in fine fashion. Seven points clear at the top of the league and having saw off Linfield and Glentoran both in the opening exchanges of the season, it looked promising for The Reds.

Newry fell to a slim defeat at Solitude and a rotated squad demolished Ballyclare at Dixon Park in the Bet McLean Cup Third Round, Layton Stewart bagging a brace to put a marker down for more regular starts.
On the back of his cup double, Stewart started the North Belfast Derby. Alongside Gormley they both netted two in a fierce game which saw Steven Baxter's side reduced to nine men. Eleven cards were issued in a game where Crusaders were overwhelmed by wave after wave of Cliftonville attacks.

Cliftonville exceeding expectations, with the season a roaring success so far, then three days later they travelled the short distance to Seaview. Back to back North Belfast derbies, Crusaders like a wounded animal fought for their lives and a stunned Cliftonville side crumbled under the pressure. Baxter led his side to an unimaginable 4-0 victory. The Reds werent able to lay a glove on a rampant Crusaders, much to the delight of the some three thousand plus home support, as they advanced to the Semi-Final of the Co. Antrim Shield.

After only a few days Cliftonville made a deflated trek down the coast road to Larne, where they hoped to overcome a blip in form. Larne smelled blood in the water and after seven minutes played at Inver Park, Cliftonville were two in arrears. Lacking a cutting thrust in the final third McToal's Reds were unable to get on the scoresheet and limped out of the game to a 2-0 defeat.

Another journey up the M2 was to follow and a return to Coleraine where the opening day of the season had returned a defeat at the hands of Kearney's Bannsider's. Cliftonville's form had taken a knock and confidence was beginning to plummet. When Coleraine opened the scoring on four minutes, there was a distinct feeling of woe among the away support. Things went from bad to worse and a leaky Reds defence saw Coleraine up the stakes, when Matthew Shevlin fired home a second on sixteen minutes.
Cliftonville regrouped and when Ryan Curran blasted home on thirty eight minutes, there was a sense of optimism that there was still something in the game for the Belfast men. Joe 'The Goal' Gormley popped up within two minutes to equalise and with a renewed confidence Cliftonville started to take control of the game. A drab seconf half ensued with neither side looking likely to add to their tally and when the final whistle blew, it was all square at The Showgrounds by and large a fair result for both teams.

It would be fair to say that Cliftonville had suffered a setback in their season after a surprising start and when next they hosted Larne in the League Cup Quarter Final, hopes were not high. Their lead at the top of the league had been reduced to a single point and the defence was under scrutiny of the fans and media alike, due to leaking so many goals from routine defensive positions. Tiernan Lynch's Larne had bee rampant when the sides met ten days earlier, racing into a two goal lead within seven minutes. Cliftonville proceeded to put out all the stops and turned in a fine display, edging out their opponents 2-0, with both goals coming from Layton Stewart. The on loan striker was finding his feet at Solitude and caught the eye of Jurgen Klopp, with his performances in the Irish League.

A 1-0 narrow win over Carrick Rangers closed out the month, in which a Joe Gormley penalty on 66 mins was required to secure the win.

Cliftonville have problems at the back, with Levi Ives out of form and no settled central pairing to marshal the defence in the middle. Larmare Bogarde has failed to establish himself following his loan from Aston Villa, the Dutch teenager reduced to introductions from the bench. It will be interesting to see what January will bring and i suspect as has been reported in local tabloids, that Cliftonville will move for a Centre Back in the January window.


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November 2022;

November would turn into a month which papered over the cracks of the frail Cliftonville defence, though their League Cup Semi Final would expose the danger which could upset the clubs aspirations to pick up silverware. Bookmakers had priced The Reds at 6-1 for the league title before a ball was kicked, with one lifelong supporter rumoured to have laid down a £5,000 bet at a shop on the Antrim Road.

Free scoring Cliftonville disposed of Glenavon, Dungannon and Newry, the goals coming from a a range of scorers proving that consistently The Reds were a constant threat right across the attack.
Form appeared to have been recovered and when the next fixture saw the North Belfast men travel to the Oval, supporters were confident of securing another win over their city rivals.

Within eleven minutes of the first half, Ronan Hale had claimed a brace. The former Derry City and Larne Winger struggling to cement a place in the side, was given a starting berth up top. He turned in a man of the match performance and by the time Stevie Mallon stroked in a third on eighty one minutes, the contest was done.

Two hundred and eighty three supporters travelled down the M1 to Lurgan, where Dollingstown would host Cliftonville in the League Cup Semi Final. The Planters Park men were a surprise package in the Bet Maclean Cup and under the guidance of Stephen Uprichard, having ousted Crusaders, Linfield and Ballinamallard to reach this stage.
Liverpool loanee Layton Stewart opened the scoring early for Cliftonville before doubling the advantage on thirty four minutes. When Ronan Hale added a third a minute later, the writing looked to be on the wall for the Lurgan side. But as was the case already in the competition, Dollingstown showed what they were all about and refused to lie down to the Danske Premier outfit. Goals from Callum Ferris and Gary Liggett in the sixty seventh and seventieth minute were greeted by tumultuous applause by the home support as The Dollybirds fought their way back into the tie. It was when pushing for the leveller, Stewart pounced for his third to complete the hat-trick nine minutes before full time. You would have been forgiven at that stage to think the tie was over, however football as they say is a funny old game and when Gary Liggett popped up to notch Dollingstowns third some five minutes later, there was to be a nervy last few minutes for Cliftonville.
When the final whistle sounded Cliftonville had narrowly reached the League Cup Final, however the prevailing achievement must surely go to the Planters Park side who had a fantastic run in the competition and claimed a number of high profile scalps along the way.


December 2022;

Clifonville having performed exceptionally well and above expectations, should have heard the alarm bells ringing in Lurgan. Conceding three goals through weak defending to Dollingstown, should have been the sign that something needed to change drastically in the heart of defence. As December's fixtures started, the defensive errors became more pronounced.

Consecutive draws with Ballymena and Linfield opened the month. Ballymena pegging back a toothless Reds side put ahead through Chris Curran was followed up by Linfield arriving at Solitude and threatening to walk over the home side. Linfield two up just over half an hour in were in control of the game, and when Ryan Curran pulled one back just before the half, it was against the run of play. Kirk Millar was sent for an early bath on seventy two minutes giving the home side a way back into the game. Cliftonville pushed forward with the extra man and when Ronan Hale equalised on seventy eight minutes, there was hope that a winner was there for the full points. Both teams played out a stalemate in the final twelve minutes, neither able to unlock the other defence and claim a win.

Bouncing back, The Reds claimed wins over Carrick and Portadown, Ryan Curran finding the net in both games inclusive of a hat-trick against Portadown. Maintaining a slim lead over Colerain atop the league table, critical fixtures with Crusaders and Linfield again, loomed.
A weary and injury depleted Cliftonville saw the fixture list take its toll on results.

Defeats to both teams were damaging as Coleraine maintained form to leapfrog to the top of the table. Fans were angry at both results and especially more so at conceding a late penalty at Windsor Park. Lamare Bogarde who has been less than impressive following his loan switch from Aston Villa, making a rash challenge to give away the penalty. The young Dutch defender has been at fault for multiple errors at the back this season and supporters will be keen to see a solid replacement in the January window.
Bogarde pushing McKee over in the area

In other news, the contract situation with Joe Gormley was resolved. The 33 year old striker penned a 1 year extension at the club. The talismanic front man has netted 21 times so far this season, including 7 in the Europa Conference qualifiers and while the legs may not be as young as once they were, there still appears to be a role for him in the side under the new manager.
January 2023;
The celebrations of the festive season long gone and a fresh calendar year underway, Cliftonville took to the icy surface of the Solitude pitch, in preparation for the arrival of Larne. Sitting a mere two points adrift of Coleraine, in a still commendable second position, The Reds went through match preparations under assistant manager Declan O'Hara. Meanwhile in the Board Room, the manager sat with the Chairman and Director Of Football strategizing their moves in the transfer window. Economically, the club like a large number in the league would be operating on fine margins, no glittering war chest's of the Larne's and Linfield's. A few names were drawn up and budgets discussed. Any bold moves in the market would see the kitty disappear faster than the frost that now glistened across the hallowed turf below.

A much more streamlined Cliftonville went about their business in the opening quarter of an hour, The Reds seemingly more compact retained the ball well and remained rigid along the back. When Gormley headed home the opener on eighteen minutes, it gave the side a huge lift. A newly invigorated Cliftonville played with confidence, working the ball well and dictating the tempo. It was just before the half and Layton Stewart racing onto a through ball, lofted an audacious lob over Rohan Ferguson in the Larne goal, to double the advantage. Reminiscent of Davor Suker's chip against Denmark in Euro 96, the twenty year old Liverpudlian may possibly have recorded the goal of the season. The second half was to be a stalemate, both sides cancelling each other out in the wintery conditions in North Belfast.

Cup ties followed and Cliftonville going well in the SPFL Trophy, played host to Paul Lambert's Dunfermline. The Pars, languishing in League One of the Scottish football tier system are only a shadow of their former selves. Ten seasons ago they had appeared in the top flight, a fleeting season having saw their initial relegation in 2007. Lambert, a Champions League winner with Broussia Dortmund in 1997, before joining Celtic where he added a haul of domestic honours, could not steer his side past the Belfast side. A brace each from Stewart and Gormley saw off the Scots and in the famous words of their own anthem, sent them homeward to think again.
A poor Warrenpoint were brushed aside in the Irish Cup, as Cliftonville began to look like a new side in how they used the ball more efficiently and with confidence.

As things were going well, Coleraine arrived for a top of the table clash. The Bannsiders a point to the good, would be trying to extend their lead under Oran Kearney, having played exceptionally well this season also.


Jamie McDonagh fired The Reds ahead with a thunderous free kick, in the third minute to shock the visitors. The Irish winger who had been experiencing some indifferent form, bent a physics defying shot outside of the Coleraine wall into the top corner, leaving Gareth Deane in the goal no chance.

When he did it again on forty two minutes, from slightly more central, the roof nearly came off Solitude. Oran Kearney, his head in his hands couldnt believe what he was witnessing. The opportunity to extend the lead atop the table was fast disappearing.

Just over a minute later Shevlin ghosted into the box and met a deep Glackin cross, to reduce the deficit before the half time whistle.
Both teams battled in the second half and after Carson received a second yellow for hacking down McDonagh, it made Kearney;s task all the harder.

Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Who else but Joe "The Goal" Gormley, with just over twenty minutes remaining, the big front man added a third to seal the points. Latching onto a knockdown from McDonagh the prolific hit man thundered an eighteen yard drive into Deane's top corner, and will surely rival strike partner Stewart for goal of the season so far.

A narrow win over Glenavon and draw with Ballymena closed out the month, seeing Cliftonville sit top of the league again.

Behind the scenes, club representatives were dispatched to oversee additions to the squad.
A trio of defenders in Darren Hynes, Harry Nicolson and Sonny Aljofree arrive to bolster the back line, Nicolson arriving on a free following his release by Finn Harps.
February 2023;
As the transfer window drew to a close and February began, Cliftonville unveiled a final signing of the Winter window.
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Shane Blaney had let his contract run down at Sligo Rovers, before leaving the club as a free agent. It is believed that Cliftonville had been keeping tabs on the Letterkenny born defender and had scouted him on several occasions. Attempts to take the twenty four year old on loan earlier in the season, did not come to fruition, yet McToal insisted that the board do all in their power to bring the former Doncaster centre back to Solitude. The players agent revealed that Galway Utd were also in talks for the player however after two seasons in the Irish Premier Division, he was keen to move to a club challenging for honours and a European place for next season. It is rumoured Blaney has signed until 2024 with the option of another year, a deal which will see him earn £550 p/w, with further performance related bonuses.

Cliftonville opened the year with a trip down to Inver Park, to face a Larne side which hadn't lived up to expectations so far. Tirnan Lynch's side had settled around mid table, the forecast title push having never materialised. Ryan Curran scored two in the opening twenty minutes before later retiring with an injury. Jake Cain added a third before half time to seal a routine win against a poor Inver Reds, as the second half was played out with no real effect from either side. Cliftonville three to the good, eased off the pedal with more important games to come. The injury sustained by Curran would be a worry though, with Coleraine to play in just over a week in the League Cup final.

Cliftonville fielded a weakened team to face Airdrie in the SPFL semi, with the Coleraine game just four days later. Losing out in extra time will be no huge blow to the side, with everyone at the club focusing on retaining the League Cup.

It was to be 2022 revisited for Oran Kearney and Coleraine, as Cliftonville followed up on their League Cup success of last season, by retaining the cup. Played at Solitude, due to adverse weather affecting Windsor Park, Coleraine failed to produce a credible challenge to a Cliftonville side determined to lift silverware.
Cliftonville were awarded a spot kick when Gormley was bundled over, just after a quarter of an hour and taking it himself he squeezed it past Gareth Deane to take the lead. A slim lead at the half, Cliftonville controlled the game well, having snuffed out any Coleraine advances into the final third. Addis and Turner were having a fine game in the middle of defence but when Rodney Brown rose highest in the area on fifty two minutes, the Coleraine bench were on their feet celebrating a leveller. The joy was short lived as within minutes at the other end, Gormley bundled over in the area was awarded a second penalty. He dispatched the kick to the same corner, his thirty first goal in all competitions this season, sending Deane the wrong way. Cliftonville effectively put the contest to bed when Gormley raced onto a lofted ball on seventy one minutes, the striker instinctively rifled off and eighteen yard drive, to find the bottom corner of Gareth Deane's net once again. Coleraine laboured to get forward, but Cliftonville controlled the game, keeping possession for large swathes of the final minutes. With a minute to go until full time Gormley popped up again, this time turning provider. After some fine work on the right he found Ronan Hale, squaring across the box for the twenty four year old to claim a cup final goal, beating Deane with ease from eight yards out.
A first piece of silverware for the current manager, emulating his predecessor in the space of a half season. On the current trajectory, the future looks bright for Cliftonville as they sit four points clear at the top of the league table and will shortly contest the Irish Cup quarter final, again against an Oran Kearney led Coleraine side.





Still buoyed by their win over Coleraine, Cliftonville recorded a routine win over Portadown in Belfast. A home debut goal for Shane Blaney opened the scoring, before Gormley added a second from the spot. As Cliftonville travelled to Larne the had the chance to extend the lead at the top to six, following Coleraine dropping points in the early kickoff. The 3-0 win by the Inver Reds did not reflect the game as both teams were evenly matched, however Larne took their chances when presented. Goalkeeping errors by on loan Lorcan Healy flattered the coastal side and after such a poor performance it is unlikely the UCD youngster will feature again this season.


Coleraine continued to drop points, giving Cliftonville the chance to extend the lead again, to six points. Despite twice being ahead against The Glens, they failed to get the job done. A Hrvoje Plum free kick the leveller, in a game where Glentoran rarely featured in attack, but yet claimed a share of the spoils, it will be seen as a huge missed opportunity by Cliftonville.
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March 2023;
The month of March would begin with the seasons main rivalry Coleraine and Cliftonville meeting in the Irish Cup Quarter Final. Cliftonville confident following wins in their last two meetings with the Bannsiders, arrived in Coleraine for a hotly anticipated encounter that saw 2619 people through the turnstiles. The media had forecast a hostile reception for the North Belfast side, as a fierce encounter was on the cards. Kearney's men desperate to return the serve, following defeat in the Maclean Cup showpiece had been preparing diligently for the tie and were in no mood to roll over to the league leaders.
Kearney's side pressed from the first whistle and with a voracious crowd behind them, attacked with gusto. Matthew Shevlin a continual thorn in the side peeled off the back marker from a Lynch free kick, and lashed home a thunderous volley past Hughes. Coleraine one up after only four minutes, the roar inside The Showgrounds was deafening. Cliftonville for the remainder of the half were thwarted by a dogged Coleraine side, who threatened on the counter in an end to end game. It was only in the fifty ninth minute when Jamie McDonagh brought the tie level. The Irish winger put through on goal, firing across Deane to find the far side of the custodians goal. In typical Cliftonville fashion of late, they swarmed Coleraine when their opponent was on the ropes and McDonagh wide on the right found Gormley at the back post for the simplest of tap in's, to take the lead six minutes later. Coleraine fought hard encouraged by manager and supporters to find the equalizer and not exit another cup to The Reds, however deep into injury time Cliftonville put the tie to bed with a third. Shane Blaney rose highest in the box, to nod McDonagh's corner into the net as the Coleraine supporters exited the ground in droves.

Coleraine's poor form continued and rocked by the cup exits to Cliftonville, they dropped points to Ballymena and Larne, over the next three games. In the same period to see out the month, Cliftonville overturned Crusaders, Dungannon and Newry. A narrow win at Seaview was considered a crucial victory to heap the pressure onto The Bannsiders, going into the league split. Ryan Curran back among the goals, including the winner over The Crues, was ably assisted by McDonagh, Stewart and Gormley, the latter taking his tally for the season to thirty five in all competitions.


Cliftonville extend their lead atop the table to ten points, with a superior goal advantage over Coleraine. When the league resumes on April First Coleraine will not be in a position to suffer fools and need to hit the ground running. It will be imperative that they banish their poor form as nothing short of maximum points from the remaining fixtures will be required, if they are to stop Cliftonville from lifting a first league title since 2014. Likewise with such a points margin and goal difference, it will take nothing short of a total and utter capitulation by The Reds to fall short of lifting silverware on the final day when they host neighbours Crusaders. But this is football and as they say anything can happen.
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LOVE this story! Keep it up mate - not got time to read in full but love the idea.

Will come back and read soon!
April 2023;
As the title run in fixtures were announced, Cliftonville met Glentoran at Windsor Park in the Irish Cup Semi Final. The Reds high flying in the league and with the Mclean Cup already secured, were confident of a result against their city rivals. Its that moment of confidence, when the rug gets pulled from under your feet and that was certainly the case in West Belfast.

With a potential league title in the offing, Cliftonville will not be too disheartened to see a possible treble escape their grasp, however prolific striker Joe Gormley sustained a groin injury which will keep him out for the remainder of the season. Gormley's injury will be a huge blow for the Solitude men, as the remaining fixtures will come with a huge amount of pressure where experienced heads will be invaluable in fighting off the Coleraine challenge.

In other news Cliftonville have signed Dion McGhee. The twenty two year old attacker had been without a club since his release by Braga. The former Manchester Utd youth player joins on a two year deal, however is not expected to feature this season in the run in.

Coleraine would begin their final fixtures by securing a win against Stephen Baxter's Crusaders, at Seaview. Dean Jarvis and Matthew Shevlin with the goals for Coleraine, enough for the Bannsider's to mount the pressure on McToal's Cliftonville. Both clubs would play three days later in their respective fixtures, the gap reduced to seven points.

A game in hand, Cliftonville would travel the short distance down the M2, to the Ballymena Showgrounds, while Coleraine entertained the largely disappointing Larne. David Jeffrey's Ballymena lay in third place in the league, a late surge after Christmas propelling them up the table. No stranger to success following his legendary spell with Linfield, Jeffery would no doubt be aiming for more than a draw against the league leaders, who suffered defeat at the hands of The Glens last time out. Meanwhile Tiernan Lynch would be hoping for a result in Coleraine, to help lift Larne into contention for a European place through a high league finish.


As both games kicked off under the evening floodlights, supporters at both grounds listened keenly to radio commentary for score updates.
They hadn't long to wait, as in the third minute Ollie O'Neill fired Cliftonville ahead with a powerful header. It wasn't the start that Coleraine needed, hoping that near rivals Ballymena would do them a favour and secure a result, and when their former midfielder Ben Doherty put Larne ahead two minutes later, it was a cruel twist of fate. Doherty would add a second four minutes after the restart to put Larne in control and by the time Conor McKendry had pulled one back for the Bannsider's on seventy one minutes, Cliftonville were 3-1 ahead. The title challenge slipping away from Coleraine, it was to be Layton Stewart who would confirm it by prodding home The Reds fourth seven minutes from time.


When the final whistle blew in Ballymena, it ended an almost ten year wait for Cliftonville to get their hands on the league trophy. In 2013-14 the late Tommy Breslin had masterminded a Cliftonville league and league cup double, narrowly missing out on a domestic treble by defeat in the Irish Cup Final. It was his second league title, having wrested the championship trophy from Linfield the previous year.
Just under twelve months ago, David McToal was charged with leading the club to an eventual league championship, he completed it by mid April to the astonishment of the board, supporters and the media. The Breslin Effect is in full flow and there is a hope that the club can now push on and achieve further success, now that this hurdle has been crossed.




The league title secure, Cliftonville would rest some players for the remainder of what was an arduous season, fielding a number of fringe players.

The Reds continued their good form right to the end of the campaign, recording bragging rights over Coleraine, Linfield and Crusaders as each fell to defeat at Solitude. Larne provided a sterner test at Inver Park and it took a huge effort by the team to come back from two in arrears, to salvage a draw. Seeing off Crusaders in the North Belfast derby 3-0 was a fitting end to the season, that captured the clubs dominance since early in the campaign. An opening day defeat to eventual runners up Coleraine would be only one of five throughout.
The season complete, Cliftonville will go away to celebrate their achievement and prepare for next season, where a tougher task will be to retain their title.


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The season now complete, Cliftonville players will now go on their Summer break, before returning in July. Cliftonville will contest the opening qualifying round of the Champions League. For now the board and management will review the season, and make decisions on the current playing staff.




The manager is believed to favour a personalized system of Excel, utilizing Conditional Formatting to assess seasonal performance of the squad. With the exception of Joe Gormley who penned a new one year deal, the following players are set to see their contracts expire. Six players on loan within the first team squad are set to return to parent clubs, with no current plans for an extension to the temporary deals. Ollie O'Neill, Jake Cain and Layton Stewart played large roles in the double winning season, with Liam Hughes ever present in goal. The manager was heavily criticised for his reliance on loan signings this season, however the potential for European prize money following their league triumph may see investment by the board to improve the squad on a permanent basis. Cliftonville had for large parts of the season looked weak at the back, with few options for rotation and it wasn't until the Winter transfer window that the arrivals of Blaney, Hynes and Nicolson provided some depth.







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Close Season;


Rumoured to have a transfer war chest in excess of £400k, following their European and domestic exploits this season, Cliftonville have already begun strengthening for next season. At the same time the manager was being awarded the Manager Of The Year award, Harry Brockbank was being signed at Solitude. The former Bolton and St Patrick's Athletic full back signs a one year deal with an option for another. The twenty four year old had been without a club since his release in the Winter, however had successive trials at Solitude where he was assessed over the later part of the season by the staff.

Cliftonville had four players named in the Danske Premiership Team Of The Year, with Coleraine having five. Both clubs impressive all season made up the majority of the team, with only Dungannon's Michael O'Connor and Ballymena's David McDaid representing the remainder of the clubs. Despite the players included, Cliftonville's Joe Gormley could legitimately be feeling somewhat aggrieved at his omission, the tall striker being an integral part of the clubs campaign throughout.

Cliftonville announce the loan extension of Layton Stewart. The 20 year old was said to be keen to return to Solitude for a second season, following his successful spell previously. Stewart netted thirty one goals in forty appearances across all competitions, as The Reds steamrolled their way to an emphatic league and cup double success.

Cliftonville's current manager pens a contract extension, to take his tenure at the club to 2025. the North Antrim man is said to be delighted to continue in the role, following his storming start at the club last year that has upset the dynamic of the Danske Premiership.

Cliftonville are handed a difficult encounter with Romanian champions FSCB, in the opening round of Champions League qualifying. Nicolae Dice, former national team assistant manager capped thirty two times by Romania, will bring his side to Belfast for the opening leg in July. Cliftonville will need to be at their best to get anything from a game in which the will surely be unfancied to progress.
Colin Coates retires upon his contract expiry

Entering pre-season fixtures, Clintonville were still active in the transfer market, with some key positions to fill.

Wins over Dumbarton, Hamilton and Accrington were followed up by an impressive 2-1 victory over a strong Celtic reserve side.
Cliftonville have been linked with a number of players in the transfer window, but so far only moves for Brockbank and Stewart have come to fruition.
As the Champions League fixture looms, it will be difficult to see how a Cliftonville can engineer a win over a much more seasoned opponent.
July 2023;

Days before Solitude hosts FCSB in the opening Champions League qualifier, Cliftonville unveil Josh Campbell to the gathered supporters.
Former Scotland U-21 international Campbell is the clubs record signing, following completion of his £14,000 move from Hibernian. The 23 year old midfielder signs a two year deal, which could see the fee rise to £40,000 pending international appearances.






Cliftonville welcomed FSCB to Belfast for this eagerly anticipated Champions League qualifier, with The Reds expected to be outclassed across all areas of the pitch. Layton Stewart, back in the red of Cliftonville for a second season on loan from Liverpool, obviously hadn't read the script. The young striker who netted thirty one times in all competitions last season, latched onto McDonagh's sweeping cross to slam home the games opener just before the half hour. A packed Solitude went crazy as the Romanian side quickly realised that the tie was not a mere formality. Restricting their opponents to efforts from long range, Cliftonville hassled and harried FCSB not allowing them to settle on the ball. This was evidenced greatly when on the hour Julian Cristea through frustration, was dismissed for a bad foul on Ronan Hale. FCSB were further thwarted by a dogged Cliftonville defence, their challenge made even greater with a man less. When Blaney dropped back into Centre Back for Addis, Josh Campbell entered the fray to make his debut. The Scot solidified the midfield, with Blaney providing a level of calmness and finesse at the back, to soak up any pressure from the long ball. Gormley introduced for Ryan Curran, joined Stewart in the attack, Cliftonville looking for a second to press home the advantage. A long ball from deep minutes before full time was brought down by the experienced Gormley, under pressure, and when his layoff back to Rory Hale found the midfielder centrally the whole of Solitude could see a tie changing moment opening. Hale threaded a pass through the heart of the scrambling FCSB defence to pick out the onrushing McDonagh, who scampered through on goal. Two minutes from time McDonagh dropped his shoulder and bent the ball expertly past the onrushing Goalkeeper to increase the lead and take a two goal advantage to Romania next week. The scenes of unbridled joy around Solitude would have given you cause to think that The Reds had just lifted the illustrious European Cup, such was the noise level in the stadium. This result will live long in the history of the club and should they go one better in the away leg in seven days, Cliftonville will have announced themselves a an emerging force in Irish football.

As Cliftonville fly out to Bucharest for the return leg of the Champions League qualifier, it is unknown if Jamie McDonagh and Rory Hale are among the twenty three man squad travelling on this morning's Ryanair flight out of Dublin. Agent John Bell rocked the club with new contract demands for the pair, following the clubs home leg win last week. It is believed each player under contract until 2025 have demanded new deals, which has not gone down well with the manager or board. Sources inside Solitude claim that heated discussions between manager and players has resulted in a split in the dressing room, as the club embarks on possibly its biggest fixture in the last number of seasons. Cliftonville surpassed all expectations last year to claim a domestic double, with both players playing key roles in the title winning side throughout. An already pressurised fixture will no doubt become even more so, as Cliftonville bid to reach the next round where they will face either Rosenborg or Paide LM.

An historic night for Cliftonville Football Club in the National Stadium in Bucharest, where The Reds despite losing 2-1 to the Romanian champions, progress to Round 2 of Champions League qualifiers. Rory Hale and Jamie McDonagh who agreed new two year deals before departing Belfast, started the game following speculation over their inclusion. Cliftonville in the large arena with only thirteen travelling fans, started poorly with the Romanians as expected controlling the play. It took only twelve first half minutes, before Popescu bent a free kick past the bemused Gartside in the Cliftonville goal. Things went from bad to worse when just before the half hour FCSB wiped out the Cliftonville advantage, when Compagno headed in the second. Gartside caught flat footed as the header looped over the goalkeeper into the net could have possibly done better, but the Cliftonville defence was having a torrid time. The Reds tightened up and were able to contain their opponents for the remainder of the half, managing a few chances of their own, but both Gormley and Stewart were having a tough time trying to impose any threat on the FCSB back line.
Half time was a welcome breather for the Belfast men and they started the second half in better vain. Both teams attacked and did just enough to stifle each other, neither able to break the impasse. As the game wore on into the final minutes it looked like going to extra time. Cliftonville had made changes with McGhee, Gallagher and Addis entering proceedings at the expense of Gormley, Ives and Blaney who had poor evenings in an intense arena. Just minutes from time with the tie in the balance and extra time expected, Cliftonville were awarded a free kick on the edge of the FCSB area. Dion McGhee placed the ball and lined up for an effort on goal. The former Manchester Utd trainee made five appearances last season for Cliftonville and was making only a second European appearance of his career, both from the bench this season. The twenty two year old dispatched a free kick of immense quality to the top corner of the FCSB net, to silence the home crown and hand the advantage back to Cliftonville. The Reds were able to see out the remainder of the tie, frustrating the Ros-albastrii to clinch a sensational aggregate win at full time. It was a less than impressive performance from the Belfast men, however the groundwork at Solitude in the first leg and a moment of magic from McGhee were enough to earn an historic win.








Cliftonville shocked the visiting Rosenborg with an early opener at Solitude, Layton Stewart racing though in the second minute to fire the ball into the top corner of the stunned Norway champions' net. Solid defending by The Reds kept their opponents at bay, as a strong Rosenborg advanced readily into the Cliftonville half. It wasn't until the seventy second minute when a lapse in defence let captain Henriksen tap home an equalizer for the travelling side. The game was evenly contested thereafter, with neither side having any clear effort on goal. Cliftonville though they had scored a late winner, when in the ninety third minute Ryan Curran on for Gormley, blasted high into Tangvik's goal. The assistant referee raised a late flag on Ronan Hale for straying offside as he collected Campbells lofted ball into the box, before squaring to the ever alert Curran. Cliftonville supporters will feel aggrieved at the decision, but a draw will still be a fine result over a seasoned European opponent, who will prove a bigger challenger in Norway next week. Cliftonville will have to be at their best and improve dramatically on their last away performance in Romania, when they relied on a last minute moment of brilliance from Dion McGhee to edge through.


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August 2023;
It would be a hurdle too far for Cliftonville when they travelled to Norway for the return leg. Despite their valiant attempt, Rosenborg closed out the tie without much difficulty. Ahead as early as the sixth minute from a dubious penalty, Rosenborg controlled the game for much of the opening exchanges. Layton Stewart levelled on eighteen minutes racing onto a through ball and lofting over the onrushing Tangvik, to give the fifty odd travelling fans a moment of hope in Lerkendal, however chances were hard come by and Rosenborg clearly had more gears to go through. Keeping Cliftonville at bay, it wasn't until midway through the second half that the Norwegians took the lead. Saeter nodding home to take the advantage in the tie, Cliftonville began to chase the game. It was the experience of the Norwegian champions though that shone through, soaking up pressure from the North Belfast men, before ending any hopes of an upset when Andersson drove home eight minutes from time. The Reds can take heart in their Champions League run and gave a good account of themselves against professional sides of much greater stature in European football.

Dropping into the Europa League qualifiers Cliftonville were drawn against Finnish champions FC Inter Turku. The Finns had also exited the Champions League qualifiers, at the hands of Slovak's FC Spartak Trnava. Not to be taken lightly, FC Inter led onfield by Petteri Forsell had eliminated Astana in the previous round and Cliftonville will have to be at their best to be in with any chance of progressing to the lucrative Playoff stage. The winners of the tie would be guaranteed a place in the Europa Conference, should they fail to come through the Playoff at the end of the month.

Cliftonville travelled to Finland for the first leg, with a full squad available and lined up in their normal 4-4-2 system.

Three minutes into the game the twenty three travelling fans were on their feet, as Rory Hale's long ball forward was headed goalward by Ryan Curran, catching the Inter goalkeeper unawares to take the lead. Cliftonville looked confident on the ball and bossed the opening exchanges, the Finnish champions poor all across the park. If things had begun well for Cliftonville, they were about to get better. Attacking on the left, Stewart who was so impressive so far this season cut the ball back to Levi Ives on the edge of the area. The wing back danced across the box before bending a speculative effort toward the far post, where an unsighted Uotilla reacted late to see the ball squeeze past into his net for a second time. Two to the good, Cliftonville saw out the remainder of the game probing for a third, but not committing numbers forward, happy to take the advantage home to Belfast. FC Inter for their part were poor and no doubt they will be disappointed with their performance. It will take a significant improvement if they are to overturn the deficit, however i wouldn't bet against them in the return.

Just under seven thousand made their way into Windsor Park for the eagerly anticipated encounter.

Cliftonville carried on where they left off in Finland. Stewart, ever the threat opened the scoring on five minutes, before FC Inter pulled level on seventeen. An FC Inter dismissal for a bad two footed challenge on Hale a minute later, made the task all the harder for the Finns. McDonagh restored the advantage on half time and when Gormley extended the lead on fifty three minutes, FC Inter had a mountain to climb. An instant replay to make it 3-2 was a false dawn, as the contest petered out to see Cliftonville advance on an historic night.


The opening Danske Premier fixture against Glenavon featured before the Europa playoff, where Qarabag awaited The Reds. A second string Cliftonville produced an impressive 4-0 win, with new signing twenty year old John McGovern claiming all four on his debut.

Cliftonville would now begin preparations for their crunch Europa League Playoff encounter.........


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August 2023 continued...;

Azerbaijan champions Qarabag arrived in Belfast for a crucial tie in which they were clear favourites. The Azeri side featured a number of internationals throughout the squad and would be confident having saw off Panathinaikos in the previous round.

Cliftonville would go into the game following a good run of results in Europe this season and hoping to give a good account of themselves against strong opposition. Rory Hale would be absent in the centre of midfield, with Blaney coming in to deputise alongside Josh Campbell. The Reds began cautiously under the bright lights of Windsor Park, almost eight thousand supporters inside the ground making themselves heard. It was the some ninety one Azeri fans celebrating first though, as when seemingly under little pressure, a deep free kick into the area was flicker over Gartside by Julio Romao to take the lead twenty four minutes in.

A decisive setback, Cliftonville would have to try and make their mark on the game and take something to Azerbaijan. Two minutes after the restart it was their talisman striker Joe Gormley to signal Cliftonville's intent, as he broke free of the defence following a Stewart through ball, to lash home a leveller.

A minute later, he did it again to turn the tie on its head. Cliftonville were suddenly ahead as the tie sprang to life, Windsor Park seeing three goals in as many minutes. Gormley's right footed strike finding the net, following an insightful pass from McGhee.

Cliftonville now played with confidence and Qarabag were visibly shocked at conceding two in quick succession. When Cliftonville attacked again minutes later, they were awarded a free kick in a dangerous position. Dion McGhee, who scored that wonder strike against FSCB set the ball down, the crowd offering voracious support from the stand. McGhee fired into the top corner to take the tie to 3-1, the supporters going wild.


Qarabag were having a dismal night, after a strong opening in Belfast. The Azeri champions could not muster any real threat in the second half and Cliftonville tried to contain them and hold their advantage for the return leg. Great work on the left by McGhee allowed Stewart an effort on goal, just after the hour. His deflected effort wrongfooted Agayev in the Qarabag goal to record an emphatic win for The Reds, giving the side a three foal cushion to take to Azerbaijan.


League football would again distract from European football, in the intervening week. A rotated Reds side again claiming victory over Ballymena, with the goals from the new boy John McGovern. Six goals in two games for the twenty year old, as the former Newry man hits the ground running at Solitude. McGovern was not expected to feature all too often this season, but a plethora of fixtures has seen him thron into first team action sooner than expected and the young striker has grabbed the chance with both hands.

Cliftonville make the arduous trek to Azerbaijan, knowing that a draw will be enough to secure a place in the Europa League group stage. They are ninety minutes of football away from an historic appearance in the coveted group stage of Europe's second tier competition and their meteoric rise in stature has been phenomenal, since the beginning of last season.
The winners of the tie will bank almost £3 million for reaching the group stage, with significantly less for the losers who will drop into the Conference League group stage. With either outcome, Cliftonville are guaranteed more European football during the opening half of the season.

Cliftonville kicked off in Baku and immediately set about trying to set the pace of the game. Their first meaningful foray in attack yielded the opening goal, when a calamitous own goal set the Belfast side ahead. With a seeming mountain to climb the Azeri side had to push forward in an attempt to get back into the tie. At half time Cliftonville were still in control of the fixture and started the second half in the same fashion. Josh Campbell added a second six minutes after the restart, with a twenty five yard drive to silence a small home support of just under a thousand. Qarabag immediately pulled one back, but at 6-2 they had an unenviable task to thwart the Irish League champions. Joe Gormley ever present on big nights, put his name on the scoresheet, when on seventy three minutes he would have expected to have put the tie beyond their hosts. Qarabag came back again on eighty two minutes through Boli, but with eight minutes remaining it was too little too late for the Baku side. Ronan Hale added a fourth in stoppage time, before Qarabag added a late consolation after a dismal night in the Azeri capital. Cliftonville had made history and now qualify for the group stage of the Europa League. How David McToal and Declan O'Hara have masterminded this European run will keep pundits and supporters alike in conversation, for years to come.


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As reported in the local newspapers this week, unfancied Cliftonville have earned a place in the group stages of the Europa League, amongst some of the best clubs in the continent. After claiming a first league title in almost ten years, the North Belfast club have took an incredible leap by surpassing all expectation with their European performances this season.
Last season the side entered the Conference League qualifiers and after beating St Joseph's (GIB) 9-3, they exited the competition to a strong Young Boys side.

After a reasonable showing in Europe, Cliftonville would go on to win the Danske Premier League and in so doing qualify for the Champions League qualifiers. Their last appearances in the competition yielded little, following tough pairings with Glasgow Celtic and Debrecen.


The only players to have featured in the previous Champions League encounters and still at the club are Chris Curran and Joe Gormley. Both would have a huge part to play in the proceedings this season, their experience invaluable during the run.
The manager was heavily criticised in the media for his use of loan signings last season and not bringing players through from the youth setup. Some tabloids ran articles which said he won a prestigious domestic double with a squad which Paddy McLaughlin had largely put in place.

Of all the players brought in to the squad, only Liam Hughes, Ollie O'Neill and Jake Cain would make the seasons Best XI. Bogarde and Stewart would be named in reserves, with Stewart in particular possibly harshly omitted following his 31 strikes in all competitions.
Ahead of this season, McToal looked to add some depth to the squad and much work was done behind the scenes to bring in suitable additions.

Harry Brockbank (RB), Josh Campbell (CM), Henry Timi Davies (ST) and Layton Stewart (ST) were brought in, Stewart on an extended one year loan from Liverpool. Harvey (RB), McKay (LB), McGovern (ST) Walsh (GK) and Baird (DM) were drafted in also for squad depth and to comply with registration requirements.

On that fairy-tale night in Baku, the team which will be recorded in history is as follows;

Harry Brockbank, Josh Campbell, Shane Blaney and Dion McGhee would be the managers only additions to the squad with which Paddy McLaughlin ran Linfield a close race in the 2021-22 league championship.

Medina defects Ives' cross beyond Selmani
Josh Campbell wonder strike from 20 yards
Joe Gormley blasting home Cliftonville's third
Ronan Hale rises highest to seal victory

All eyes will now be on The House Of European Football in Nyon, as UEFA prepare to make the draws for the group stages of the various competitions.

September 2023;

As UEFA get the Europa League draws underway, Cliftonville are drawn in Group A. A favourable group for the unseeded Belfast side, they avoid stronger seeds from Pot 2 & 3. Reunited with Young Boys following their meeting earlier in Champions League qualifying, FC Spartak Trnava are drawn third. The Slovaks knocked out of the Champions League by Rosenborg, prior to defeating FC Inter Turku. Lyon are first seeds in the group and will obviously be favourites to progress, however there is a real possibility of Cliftonville getting something from this group. David McToal and Declan O'Hara were not in Nyon as they prepare for Bet McLean Cup and Co. Antrim Shield fixtures, however first team coach Joe Ledley attended the draw in their absence.


September's fixtures would begin with cup ties, Cliftonville coming off the back of their European form in high spirits and expected to progress with little resistance. Both Portadown and H&W Welders succumbed to the efficient Reds force. Arsenal loanee Henry Timi Davies opened his account for the club, netting four in their meeting with Portadown. John McGovern added to his tally for the season, to keep his name in circulation for selection. The youngster is on everyone's lips at Solitude following his prolific start this season and there is a sense at this early stage that he will be a big player for the club in the ensuing years.

A first meeting with Linfield was up next. The Blues under new manager Paul Munster would be looking to get a result from the champions at Windsor Park, to boost their early title push. Finishing seventh last season they had performed abysmally following a league championship the year before. David Healy departed the club in March and Michael Gault was left in place as caretaker until season end. Already this season they have lost to Crusaders and dropped points to Larne, a shift in power becoming more evident in Belfast.



Cliftonville took charge of the game early with Stewart opening the scoring on fourteen minutes, firing home from a McDonagh squared ball. Robbie McDaid levelled for The Blues just after the half, nodding home a deflected cross over Gartside. Ben Kennedy shown a second yellow for a reckless tackle on Blaney was dismissed and Cliftonville pressed harder to break the deadlock. Linfield may have been able to contain their city rivals, or possibly even nicked a win with the enigmatic Kennedy still on the field, however the extra man was immediately telling. Ronan Hale on for Mallon turned in a huge performance to turn this game. The winger attacking the near post on seventy seven minutes, flicked a McDonagh cross into Chris Johns' top corner to take the lead. Eight minutes later he let off a rising shot just inside the Linfield area that hung in the back of the net for what seemed an age. The powerful strike his second of the game and Cliftonville's third, to ensure victory over their neighbours again.

As Cliftonville prepare for their first ever group stage fixture in the Europa League, we look at the club in detail. Who are Cliftonville and what do we know about the squad that David McToal takes to the Groupama Stadium in Lyon.




Cliftonville Football & Athletic Club is a Northern Irish, semi-professional association football club playing in the NIFL Premiership – the top division of the Northern Ireland Football League. The club was founded in September 1879 by John McAlery in the suburb of Cliftonville in north Belfast. It is the oldest football club in Ireland and celebrated its 140th anniversary in 2019. Since 1890, the club has played home matches at Solitude. Cliftonville contests the North Belfast derby with nearby rivals Crusaders, and also has local rivalries with Linfield and Glentoran. The club has won the Irish League Premiership six times outright including one shared title, the Irish Cup eight times and the Irish League Cup eight times.






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September 2023 cont...;

The Reds travel to Lyon, marking another historic night in the history of the club. Lyon are expected to win comfortably and it has the potential to be a hugely embarrassing night for the visitors. The semi professional outfit will have to be on their guard from the off, if they are to avoid crushing defeat at the hands of a seasoned European opponent.


Cliftonville suffered a heavy defeat in their opening game of the Europa League group stage in Lyon. The Danske Premier champions struggled to get into the game, under constant pressure from a ruthless Lyon side, which featured Alexander Lacazette, Phil Jones and man of the match, Omar Marmoush. Marmoush, the twenty four year old Egyptian striker was a constant threat for The Reds back line, with the nineteen times capped international claiming a brace in the win. The defeat puts Cliftonville bottom of Group A, following Young Boys' 3-1 win over Trnava. With Cliftonville hosting the Swiss in a fortnight, they must get something from the tie if they are to have any real possibility of escaping the group.

Coming off the back of their defeat in Lyon, The Reds were back in league action. Coasting 2-0 up at The Showgrounds Cliftonville let Coleraine back into the game through slack marking, Shevlin and Brown looking to have done enough to take a share of the spoils. It would take a penalty from Ronan Hale six minutes from time to secure the win and keep within sight of a rejuvenated Glentoran at the top of the table. Again labouring to a win over Dungannon, Cliftonville required a goal from the spot to take maximum points at Solitude in a drab affair.

With games in hand Cliftonville trail The Glens at the top of the table, Declan Devine having straightened out the East Belfast men since he replaced Mick McDermott in January.
With Young Boys up next at Solitude, Cliftonville will begin to experience the pressure of fielding in Europe and maintaining a league challenge.
October 2023;

Cliftonville were regarded as the best team in the league last season, after their runaway success. October would bring them down with a bang, leaving them much to be done if they were to be regarded as a footballing powerhouse of the Irish league.
A mouth-watering tie at Windsor Park in the Europa League open the month, the Swiss rolling into town set on a casual victory. Raphael Wicky's side went behind early to a Ronan Hale strike on seventeen minutes, under the watchful eye of a hostile home support. The Reds leading 1-0 at the half, had put in a good shift and a famous result could have been in the offing. Fassnacht, the scourge of Cliftonville in the Champions League tie earlier in the season, pulled Young Boys level two minutes after the restart. Four minutes after that Jamie McDonagh was walking down the tunnel, after a straight red. Cliftonville laboured and late strikes by the Swiss in the eighty ninth minute and time added on, flattered the Swiss with a 3-1 scoreline. But for McDonagh's sending off, Cliftonville may have taken a share of the spoils.

Cup action would again be up next, with back to back fixtures against Stephen Baxter's Crusaders. Consecutive North Belfast derbies which would set the tone for the season.

Cliftonville laboured at Seaview and despite intense pressure and possession, saw Baxter's men run out 1-0 winners with an early Holden goal. The same trend followed four days later at Solitude, when Cliftonville were unable to create any attacking penetration. The Crues pinched a breakaway goal with just under a half hour to play. It would take a Ryan Curran penalty to level the game and force extra time. Both teams drained from the previous fixture in the league cup, Crusaders gave away another spot kick, the lethargy kicking in. Curran set the ball and squeezed home his second to put The Reds ahead for the first time. The match coming to the conclusion, Henry Timi Davies popped up to net Cliftonville's third and claim a place in the next round.

Portadown would make the short trip up the M1 to Belfast where a ragged Cliftonville favourites to win comfortably, laboured again at home. The Cliftonville attack line has appeared toothless at times this season, compared to the free scoring of last season. A half hour passed as Cliftonville watched all attacking advances be snuffed out by a solid Ports defence. It again would take a penalty to break the deadlock, this time Ronan Hale on hand to slot home. Rory Hale added some breathing space with a second, just before the half time whistle and Davies added a third midway through the second half in a fairly unimpressive display from the home side, despite recording a 3-0 win.

Thirteen supporters made the trip to Slovakia for the clubs third Europa League fixture and there would be more frustration for the Danske Premier side. Leading by a shock Ryan Curran goal after seven minutes, Ristovski pulled Trnava level ten minutes later. Bukata added a seceond two minutes later, the Cliftonville defence still in disarray. Layton Stewart got his name on the scoresheet after deftly dispossessing the Trnava centre half and firing across Takac in goal, the Liverpudlian continuing his scoring in continental competition under the gaze of Jurgen Klopp. The on loan star has netted six in Europe this season, in ten outings. It would however on this occasion not be enough to claim a result for Cliftonville, as five minutes later Erik Daniel had the Slovak champions back in front. Cliftonville could not muster a credible challenge in the second half, unable to penetrate a stubborn defence and when Ristovski claimed a fourth for the home side, it was another familiar defeat for the Belfast men.

With rapid fixtures across all competitions Cliftonville have seen a rotated side fielded, their semi professional squad somewhat jaded by the intense European preparations and travel commitments. They remain unbeaten in the league with Declan Devine's Glens keeping the pressure on by surging to the top of the table. Devine recently masterminded a victory over rivals Linfield 4-1, to take top spot. Paul Munster will also be feeling the pressure in West Belfast, The Blues slipping to ninth in the table and Cliftonville and Glentoran lead the way for the Belfast clubs in a title challenge.
Cliftonville have had a stuttering start to the campaign, grinding out results to keep in tough with The Glens, however they must drastically improve upon their current form by the time they visit The Oval, as it may be the first crucial battle to decide the initial direction of the league championship.