Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 July 2014

We can beat Celtic, says Cliftonville star

Cliftonville players warm up at Solitude for the big clash

It's a dream tie for Cliftonville – now Jaimie McGovern believes his side can celebrate the dream result.

The centre-back watched former team-mates dance around Windsor Park with the Irish Cup in May when Glentoran won against the odds – now it's the Reds' turn to perform heroics, only this time on the European stage.

All roads lead to Solitude tonight with Neil Lennon's Celtic in town for a Champions League second round qualifier.

Come the 7.45pm kick-off time Solitude will be packed to the rafters, with a 5,000 crowd and Sky Television cameras following the players' every move.

Celtic's pre-season form has been poor and even though memories of the Hoops' stunning run to the last 16 of the Champions League earlier this year remain fresh in the minds of supporters, Cliftonville will believe they can catch them cold tonight.

The challenge at Parkhead next Tuesday is a very different ball game but Tommy Breslin's boys fear no-one on their artificial surface.

And McGovern is hopeful it's the men in red who will produce the fireworks.

"People will say we aren't the favourites and they will expect us to get beaten over the two games and of course that's an understandable reaction," said the 24-year-old.

"But what I would say to those people is that this group of Cliftonville players are natural winners and we have proved that.

"With the greatest respect to other teams that we play, we know we have to raise our game but in these moments adrenaline gets you through and with the backing of our loud fans and the right gameplan in place we can cause Celtic real problems.

"This Cliftonville team has already shown what it is capable of doing domestically and we have made Solitude a fortress. Celtic will not relish playing here and we won't make it easy for them.

"Yes, we know that the challenge at Parkhead will be very different – that's a very different kettle of fish if you like – but we at least want to go there still in the tie. One to 20, Celtic are going to be very strong but they still have to perform.

"Weren't we expected to beat Glentoran in the Irish Cup Final – football doesn't work like that, you give your all and anything can happen.

"There's been a lot of hype and talk about this game as you would expect but this is the real deal now that the pre-season friendlies are out of the way.

"There will be certainly no arrogance or complacency from our side."

The Hoops have struggled to move through the gears in pre-season, offering the Reds more hope of causing an upset.

"I think there is perhaps no better time to play them," added McGovern.

"They are in the same situation as us in the sense that they are building their fitness and coming back from a break.

"They have suffered a few defeats as well which will leave some doubt in their minds. They are still a very good team but they are struggling to hit the ground running at the moment and we hope that's still the case on Wednesday night.

"This tie has captured the imagination of anyone with only a casual interest in the domestic game so you can imagine how the players are feeling.

"I was in work and I was following the Champions League draw on Uefa when I got called away to do something. I was told we got Celtic but I had my doubts," said McGovern.

"Then my phone started vibrating in my pocket and I knew what had happened. The demand for tickets have been huge and I have got a lot of requests. In my eyes it is a fantastic draw for the club and the supporters.

"You look at a guy like Barry Johnston who grew up supporting Celtic and then you understand how special an occasion it will be. That's before you even get your head round the fact you could be playing at Parkhead.

"The boys from west Belfast will be buzzing about this day. Speaking personally, I went to an integrated school and I never had a passion for either Celtic or Rangers. I started supporting Manchester United and that's where my loyalty lies.

"But for any player, playing in the Champions League is a dream and against a club as big as Celtic is just incredible. It doesn't matter who you support, the occasion will be special for all of us."

When the draw was made there was talk of moving the tie to a bigger venue – even Dublin's Aviva Stadium was thrown into the debate.

However, McGovern is thrilled Solitude will stage the mother of all European battles in north Belfast.

"People were talking about the Aviva, Casement Park and Ravenhill as well as Windsor but the match should be played at Solitude in front of Cliftonville fans and I'm happy it is," he added.

"This is a moment in Cliftonville's history and if you moved the game to another venue it would have the feel of a glamour friendly and it's not that. I feel the club and the supporters as well as the players deserve this.

"Playing at Parkhead will be a once in a lifetime experience. If we could beat Celtic none of us could top this in our careers.

"I'm 24-years-old and hopefully have a lot more to achieve but it would be my finest moment and hopefully guys with the talent of Conor Devlin and Liam Boyce can show what they can do."

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