Cliftonville last night suffered their first adverse reaction to their European heroics when Declan O’Hara asked to leave the Solitude club.
The 26-year old defender came on as a first half substitute for the injured Mark Holland in the second-leg against HNK Cibalia and earned rave reviews.
But when veteran ace Peter Hutton re-signed for the north Belfast men, he walked into the side against CSKA Sofia on Tuesday night and that proved the final straw for O’Hara, who will be allowed to leave the club on a free transfer.
“I’m really disappointed my time at Cliftonville has ended like this because I really love the club,” said O’Hara.
“I live two minutes from Solitude and all my mates support them or play for them so this has been a really tough decision to make. I haven’t been a regular in the side since December and at the end of last season I knew I’d have to think long and hard about my future.
“I thought about it again during pre-season but when I didn’t play in Sofia, I knew my time was up but I’m totally gutted.
“Peter Hutton is a quality player and Eddie Patterson made his decision but I have no ill feelings towards anyone at the club — it’s just a football decision and I understand that.
“Ideally I would love to stay at the Reds because it is an exciting time there and I believe the club is really going to take off, but I had to look after myself.
“I’m 26 now and if I stay there without playing I will be very quickly forgotten and there won’t be a side in the country who will want to sign a player who hasn’t actually played in ages.
“I’m a footballer and all I want to do is play. If that can’t be at Cliftonville, then I have to move on, but I wish Cliftonville well.
“It’s a new chapter in my career, though, and I am willing to listen to any club who might be interested because I think I still have a lot to prove and give in the Carling Premiership.”
Reds chairman, Gerard Lawlor, has revealed O’Hara is now free to find a new club after six-and-a-half years with his beloved Reds.
“Declan is a smashing lad and a player who has never let us down but he has decided to move on,” said Lawlor.
“We would have liked him to stay but I understand his reasons for wanting to move on and he will leave with the club’s best wishes.
“He has been frustrated for a little while and unfortunately he couldn’t be guaranteed a regular place with us but I have no doubt he will find a club and do very well.”