Breslin salutes Cliftonville cup heroes as players save their best for the final
As it turned out, the most difficult hurdle for Tommy Breslin to negotiate on Saturday night was being given the bumps by his jubilant players.
Having steeled himself for a thorough test against cup specialists Crusaders, the Reds boss watched on with delight as his side weathered a brief early storm before romping to a memorable victory.
That delight turned to near |terror when he was raised on high like the trophy itself during the post-match celebrations and, while the players were quick to hail their manager for his contribution to the achievement, |Breslin was typically determined to heap even greater praise back in their direction.
“They’ve shown what they’re capable of and it was a really special way to win a cup final,” he said.
“We spoke all week about how we wanted to treat this just like any other game and the importance of playing our normal style, not getting caught up in the occasion or anything like that.
“It’s easy for me as a manager to say that. Going out onto the pitch and putting it into practice is an entirely different matter and the players were magnificent all over the park.
“We’ve been known for the past seven years for playing good football without having anything to show for it — now we're winners.”
Having been comprehensively battered in the season’s first north Belfast derby before narrowly edging a nervy Premiership encounter four weeks ago, Breslin — who received a congratulatory text message from Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers after the game — was thrilled to see his team save arguably their best display of the campaign for the big stage.
“The first 15 to 20 minutes were fairly even, but once we settled down and started to play our football, you could really see the confidence levels growing right throughout the team,” he said.
“We had big performances all over the park and it was just one of those nights where everybody seemed to click at the same time and it’s worked out for us.
“Like any cup final, the first goal was always going to be important. Crusaders had a few chances early on, but we began to get on top of things and got ourselves ahead when Diarmuid O’Carroll finished off a good move.
“The second one coming along so quickly gave us a better platform and we were able to go on to really take control of things from there.
“The sending off ended it a wee bit as a contest, but fair play to Crusaders, they kept coming at us and weren’t just going to give it up. We had to make sure we kept playing and the third goal made absolutely sure of things.
“Just like the first half, we got another one shortly afterwards and you could just see the belief growing and growing right throughout the team.
“I’m delighted for the players because they’ve worked so, so hard all season long and this is a big reward for them, but there’s a real hunger among them to go on and do even better.
“Some of them have waited a long time to get their hands on major silverware and, having sampled a taste of it, they want more.
“Knowing the sort of lads they are, I can trust them to enjoy this, take in the celebrations, but get the heads back down to work hard when we’re back in for training.
“There’s a long way to go yet this season and they’ve done well not to just switch off and think it’s job done now.”
Content as he was to praise the team ethic, Breslin couldn’t help but agree with the overwhelming feeling among the Cliftonville support that the success was just reward for the many stalwarts who have served the club for so long.
George McMullan — the only surviving member of the Reds’ 2003 League Cup winning side — joined Barry Johnston and Ronan Scannell in getting their hands on the trophy after so many near misses through the years.
“It’s great for them all,” said Breslin.
“The team spirit is fantastic, but the boys know that the likes of Geordie, Jaunty and Ronan have been here a long time and this will mean the world to them. We’re delighted for them and I know the fans are too.”