I almost quit, says Joe Gormley
Centurion goal hero Joe admits he nearly walked out on Reds shortly after joining
He may be the Danske Bank Premiership's most feared predator but that might never have been the case had Joe Gormley had his way.
After taking his season's goal tally to 20 with a hat-trick in Cliftonville's 7-0 thumping of Ballymena United, the 24-year-old admitted he'd had his heart set on a move back to the Amateur League during a tricky start to life with the Reds, only to be talked out of it by coaches old and new.
His 2011 switch from Crumlin Star - who were based at Solitude at the time - did not produce immediate fireworks and Gormley admits he gave serious consideration to calling it quits with Tommy Breslin's side.
"I just want to play football and I wasn't really getting many matches at the start," he reflects.
"It was frustrating being on the bench and maybe only playing for a few minutes at a time and I'd actually thought about leaving just so I could go and play somewhere else.
"Thankfully, Tommy and the coaches Skin (Gerard Lyttle) and Minto (Peter Murray) were good to me and (Crumlin Star boss) Sean Brown told me to stick at it, give it a year and see what happened at the end of that."
Reds fans may forever be in Brown's debt now that Gormley has surpassed the 100 goal tally in 159 Cliftonville appearances, with only the club's all-time top scorer, Dr Kevin McGarry, having hit the century mark quicker - beating their modern day marksman by just THREE games.
Gormley still trails the legendary 1950s sharpshooter by some 71 strikes but, at his current rate of net-busting, is on course to assume the leading scorer's mantle sometime towards the end of next season- not that he's given it much thought.
"I don't really care about records or anything like that," he added. "It's nice when people tell me about them and it's a good feeling to know you've achieved something but I just like playing football and trying to score as many goals as I can."
One statistic which Gormley was keen to stress, however, was the assist he provided for strike partner Davy McDaid to make it 3-0 - "I'd read during the week that he'd set up half of my goals this season so it was nice to give him one back for a change. I don't set too many up, so make sure that's recorded!"
Ballymena are no strangers to thrashings at Cliftonville's hands but there was little sign of what was to come as the sides turned around scoreless at the end of an entertaining first-half.
Both goalkeepers earned their stripes with a string of smart stops; the hosts' Conor Devlin keeping Matthew Tipton and Darren Boyce at bay, while opposite number Dwayne Nelson repelled attempts from Gormley, Martin Donnelly, Stephen Garrett and Ryan Catney.
Indeed, even when Jude Winchester provided the defence-splitting pass from which Donnelly made the 53rd minute breakthrough, few at Solitude could have predicted what was to follow.
The contest arguably hinged on referee Tim Marshall's decision to disallow Mark Surgenor's 60th minute equaliser - the Irvinestown official whistling for an infringement just as the midfielder found the net from an incorrectly awarded corner.
The subsequent free-kick set the wheels in motion for the attack which saw Sky Blues defender Davy Munster pick up a second yellow card and that's when the floodgates opened.
Ballymena simply never got organised after his dismissal and Cliftonville made them pay with ruthless efficiency.
Gormley kick-started a spell of five goals in 12 minutes thanks to yet another inch-perfect Winchester pass and, after setting McDaid up to make it 3-0, Gormley pounced again to register his century strike.
McDaid nabbed his second of the day and Gormley laid claim to the matchball ahead of Jay Donnelly -whose older brother Rory scored four in the Reds' 7-3 win over Ballymena in 2011 - wrapping things up six minutes from time.
Visiting boss Glenn Ferguson admitted he was embarrassed by the scoreline and his team's collapse, but contended: "Tim Marshall has ruined what was a good game of football.
"At 1-0, were well in the game. He's made a bad error in giving us a corner which was never a corner and, as the ball comes in, Mark Surgenor's headed it into the net and [the referee] has given a foul and a free-kick which never was.
"Two wrongs don't make a right, it makes the referee look worse."