Cliftonville winning ugly suits Donnelly
Cliftonville winger Martin Donnelly admits he won't be concerned if tomorrow's north Belfast derby fails to live up to expectations.
Clashes between the Reds and Crusaders are always feisty affairs and, last season alone, their four league jousts delivered 15 goals — seven of which came in the final 10 minutes — while Cliftonville's 6-4 victory at Seaview in March earned a 10-6 aggregate success in the Setanta Sports Cup.
On those occasions Donnelly was, of course, kitted out in Crusaders colours but his first taste of derby action as a Cliftonville player was similarly action-packed with Tommy Breslin's side battling back from 2-0 down to earn a point in last month's meeting, which saw Crues midfielder Declan Caddell sent off before Ciaran Caldwell converted a hugely controversial penalty kick.
In fact, it says everything about their rivalry that the infamous Boxing Day game in 2009 — when Crusaders had four players and manager Stephen Baxter sent off before 10-man Cliftonville bagged a last-gasp winner through Liam Fleming, who had been involved in a car-crash en route to the match — is just shrugged off as a typical day at the office for the north Belfast duo.
“There always seems to be something, doesn't there?” reflects Donnelly.
“I don't think anybody can ever come away from a Cliftonville-Crusaders match thinking they haven't got their money's worth because it's the sort of game you can't take your eyes off for a second,” he says.
“Every now and again, you might think it's just a normal football match but, bang, everything changes.
“Maybe it's a late goal, a penalty or a red card — you can be sure there'll s be something like that.”
Even so, the 22-year-old insists that he'll happily sacrifice entertainment for three points in his first Solitude derby as a home player.
“At the end of the day, the most important thing is winning the match so I don't really care if it ends up being a boring 90 minutes and we sneak a scrappy goal from somewhere,” he adds.
“Both teams have won their last few matches so I don't think there'll be any players short on confidence.
“I know what these games mean to the supporters on both sides and everyone will be pumped up for it.”