Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

Linfield manager David Jeffrey would be first to admit Cliftonville are worthy champions

David Jeffrey won his 31st trophy as Linfield manager in the Co Antrim Shield final
David Jeffrey won his 31st trophy as Linfield manager in the Co Antrim Shield final

It was supposed to be David Jeffrey's title. A fitting farewell for Linfield's greatest manager – his 10th championship success before riding off into the sunset.

When Jeffrey announced in February that he was leaving the hotseat at Windsor Park at the end of the season, the big man would surely go out on a high.

The Linfield players would see to that.

They would win the Gibson Cup for him.

No they would not. They weren't good enough to do so.

Cliftonville, on the other hand, were more than good enough to be crowned champions. Again.

They say it's hard to win a title, but harder still to retain it.

That's certainly true in Irish League football unless you are Linfield.

The Blues have won back to back championships many times in their successful history. Jeffrey became an expert at it.

But for the rest it always proved a tough nut to crack.

Before this week out of all the senior football clubs to have existed in Northern Ireland only Belfast Celtic, Glentoran and Portadown, along with Linfield, had managed to claim two titles in a row.

Now add Tommy Breslin's Cliftonville to the illustrious list.

The Reds have been going for 135 years and in that time have won five league titles, two of which have come in the last two years.

Much of the praise quite rightly during that timeframe has gone to the goalscoring sensations Liam Boyce and Joe Gormley, but the current Cliftonville outfit are far from a two man team.

Captain George McMullan is an outstanding leader and in midfield there is craft and graft from Ryan Catney, Chris Curran, Martin Donnelly and Barry Johnston, a clever footballer perhaps only now receiving the credit his talent has deserved.

Stephen Garrett is another player who is an important cog in the Cliftonville wheel. He doesn't always start games, but when he comes off the bench he tends to make an impact, as was evident in Tuesday's 2-0 win at Portadown which clinched the title.

Defensively the Reds are a powerful unit too. They are way out in front in terms of goals scored in the table but the Solitude outfit have also conceded the fewest which bears testament to the performances of goalkeeper Conor Devlin and the likes of Ronan Scannell, Eamonn Seydak, Marc Smyth and Jaimie McGovern in front of him.

At the start of the season there were suggestions that some of the players had got a bit too big for their boots, carried away with their success which was celebrated long and hard in north Belfast, but if that was the case they certainly turned things around.

No doubt helped by a few wise words from their manager and his canny coaching staff.

What a job Tommy Breslin has done at Solitude. Not bad for someone who didn't really want it in the first place.

While big Davy may be finished at Linfield, little Tommy will continue to rock on with the Reds.

Two in a row is magic. Three titles in succession would be even better. With the brilliant Breslin in charge, it's on the cards.

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