Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 December 2014

Cliftonville ready to rule

Reds shot-stopper Conor Devlin leads the title celebrations on Tuesday afternoon
Reds shot-stopper Conor Devlin leads the title celebrations on Tuesday afternoon

Jaimie McGovern is clinging to the hope that Linfield suffer a 'David Moyes-style hangover' and is warning that Cliftonville could be the kings of Irish League football for many more years.

The Reds are basking in the glory of back-to-back title success – the first time the club has achieved the feat in its 135-year history.

Tommy Breslin's charges have proved they have the winning mentality and talent to keep hold of the Gibson Cup but while confidence is overflowing at Solitude, the Irish League's most successful club – Linfield – face an uncertain future.

David Jeffrey, who guided the Blues to nine league titles in a trophy-laden spell as boss, is leaving the Windsor Park stage after just over 17 years in the hotseat.

Former Northern Ireland international Warren Feeney will pick up the Linfield baton in his first managerial role and fans will look on with interest to see whether the 33-year-old will sink or swim in the post.

Former Everton supremo Moyes was axed as Manchester United boss after he failed to maintain the standards set by Sir Alex Ferguson, who won 38 trophies in a 26-year reign at Old Trafford.

Now Cliftonville fans are hoping the new Linfield boss fails to deliver in similar fashion to Moyes.

Reds centre-back McGovern said: "Whatever happens across the road at Windsor Park it's a bit like a David Moyes-Sir Alex Ferguson scenario with the manager having very big boots to fill.

"David (Jeffrey) has been very successful in everything he has done and I'm perhaps hoping they will suffer the same fate as United but we will stick to our motto which is looking after ourselves.

"We all recognise there is an expectation level now that Cliftonville teams of the past have not had to deal with.

"After the title win in 1998 the Reds slipped into a relegation battle but we are at the top on merit even though we won it (the league) more convincingly last season.

"This race was tougher and that's why it's a more satisfying win. Going into next season we are signing players in the right areas and we are setting our stall out so that teams know we are here to stay."

McGovern (below), who joined the Reds from Glentoran in May 2012, has been blown away by the success he has enjoyed across the city and he singled out boss Tommy Breslin and the club's chairman Gerard Lawlor for praise.

"This team is a huge credit to Bressy but also Gerard Lawlor as well as he has secured and attracted players, not on a massive budget but the players here are devoted to the team and want to win silverware," he added.

"Bressy said to me two years ago after I left Glentoran that 'Jaimie, I think you are the final piece in our puzzle that will go and win us the league'.

"Of course I was optimistic but deep down did I really believe him? The expectations then were that Cliftonville would qualify for Europe but Tommy was right to aim higher than that.

"I don't think what we have achieved will sink in for some time."

McGovern admitted there were times during the season when he thought the club would struggle to cross the line first and make history.

"There's no doubt there were times when I thought winning the title was going to be very difficult for us," said the 24-year-old, who made 136 appearances for Glentoran.

"We always believed in our ability but I think we were sitting in sixth position at one time in November. We had problems around the spine of our team and we lacked consistency.

"Marc Smyth was out, I was out, Janty (Barry Johnston) was missing, Cats (Ryan Catney) was out and we had a few niggly injuries.

"Teams like Warrenpoint Town were putting it up to us and we struggled.

"Teams had renewed belief that they could get something at Solitude. They tried to frustrate us and we struggled but since Christmas we have performed in the big games and the run of 31 points from a possible 33 is huge credit to the lads and Bressy.

"Some people say strikers win you matches but defences win you leagues and we have both the best defensive record and best attacking record. Goalkeeper Conor Devlin has been inspirational for us and it's a real honour for me to be playing alongside the guys at the back."

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