Cliftonville boss gunning for revenge against Celtic manager Neil Lennon
Tommy Breslin is relishing the prospect of pitting his wits against Celtic counterpart Neil Lennon in the Champions League next month – and the Cliftonville boss has a score to settle from their last meeting!
The Reds were handed the perfect draw in Switzerland yesterday when they were paired with the Glasgow giants, who of course humbled mighty Barcelona in the group stages of the competition last season.
That astonishing 2-1 victory for the Hoops at Parkhead against Lionel Messi, Xavi, Iniesta and the rest of Barca's superstar line-up sent shock waves around Europe. The reverberations would be the same if Cliftonville could upset Celtic in the two legged second qualifying round clash.
Down the years Irish League sides have endured some nightmare draws in the Champions League but for the north Belfast outfit this is the stuff of dreams.
Even Breslin, normally a relaxed, laid back character, has been caught up in the excitement of it all.
The Cliftonville manager has never been to Parkhead before but come July he'll be standing on the touchline trying to outdo former Northern Ireland midfielder Lennon.
Breslin faced the Lurgan man many years ago when the pair of them were players in the Irish League and on that occasion it was Lennon who came out on top.
"The last time I was up against Neil he scored a goal for Glenavon against Cliftonville when the pair of us were playing against each other. I think I was supposed to be marking him!" recalled Breslin, with a chuckle.
"He was a slightly built teenager back then and he scored at Solitude that day when they beat us. Shortly afterwards he went over to Manchester City and has obviously had a great career since.
"I know Neil from different coaching courses we've been on and he has proved himself to be a very good manager and has obviously done superbly with Celtic."
Breslin, too, has delivered the goods at Cliftonville, cannily and cleverly guiding the Solitude team to Irish League title success a few months ago.
He's well aware that both matches against Celtic will be huge occasions for his players when they, as Irish League champions, meet the best side in Scotland at present. Breslin is determined that the Reds do themselves justice.
"For us to be facing Celtic is absolutely amazing. It is great for everyone connected with the club," said Breslin.
"It is very difficult these days for Irish League clubs to attract big clubs to play over here. If they do come they normally bring shadow squads, under 21 squads or development players. This is the real thing for us and it is just brilliant.
"The players worked really hard last season to win the title and qualify for the Champions League and this draw is a fantastic reward for them. Both games will be great occasions they'll remember for the rest of their lives, but we know we have a job of work to do as well. We will want to give a good account of ourselves.
"It's a massive challenge for the players and it is important that we are not in awe of Celtic even though they are a top quality side. They are talking about selling one of their midfield players Victor Wanyama for £12 million so that puts things into perspective. We'll have to be focused and disciplined and be ready."
On the Parkhead experience, which has stunned many a team into submission, Breslin added: "Walking out at Parkhead will be incredible. I've never been, so from a personal point of view it is something I'm really looking forward to.
"A lot of our players would go over to games but this will be the first time for me. I'm aware of course that the Celtic supporters are very loud and vociferous and I'm sure ours will be the same."
Breslin, keen to have the home tie at Solitude, believes the Celtic games will provide the perfect preparation for his side ahead of the new season, insisting that the Reds won't rest on their laurels.
He said: "I don't want us just to accept that we had a great time last season and won trophies and that's enough for us. I want us to keep progressing. If we don't do that I won't be happy."