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Cliftonville boss Lyttle: I thought we had lost Joe Gormley to Crusaders

By Graham Luney

Cliftonville boss Gerard Lyttle has admitted he believed goal scoring king Joe Gormley was slipping out of his grasp and joining Crusaders. Gormley has signed a pre-contract agreement to return to Cliftonville on a three-year deal but Reds boss Lyttle said he feared the Crues had netted the 27-year-old.

Speaking exclusively to the Belfast Telegraph, Lyttle said: "I really thought it was a done deal and he was going to Crusaders.

"Crusaders are currently the best team in the league and Stephen Baxter is the best manager so it would be an easy assumption to make that players would want to go and play for the best team.

"But we managed to talk Joe around and stop him from joining our neighbours and I'm grateful that he has listened to our plans and that he is now hungry to do well for Cliftonville again. I'm sure he spent a few days wondering what the best decision for him to make was but his agent has told me he hasn't seen him smile this much as he has this week and that's because he's got genuine affection for this football club.

"I must pay tribute to our chairman Gerard Lawlor and the Cliftonville board for their hard work to make this deal possible and I'm naturally thrilled to see Joe back here at Solitude.

"After a tough weekend when we went out of the Irish Cup, this is a huge boost for the Irish League as well as Cliftonville."

Gormley will train with the Reds for the remainder of the season but cannot play for the side until the beginning of next campaign.

The striker has been unattached since quitting professional football with Peterborough in November. He has already played for Peterborough and St Johnstone, on loan, this season.

Gormley, who scored 122 goals in 183 appearances for the Reds during a trophy-laden four-season spell between 2011-2015, will set his sights on more silverware and Lyttle hopes the return of the king will help write more Solitude fairytales.

“When I took this job I asked fans to be patient as I, along with the backroom staff and board, knew the task was a difficult one but we embarked on a rebuilding period and you will get ups and downs in football,” said Lyttle.

“But we are working hard to improve the team and the signing of Joe is a massive statement of intent, it sends out a huge message that Cliftonville mean business.

“Everyone knows how prolific a goalscorer Joe Gormley has been and anyone who has watched us can appreciate how with Joe in the side we can be a lot more clinical.”

Lyttle added: “Disappointed as we were to lose him in the summer of 2015, in our heart of hearts we were all delighted to see him get a crack at full-time football with Peterborough United. Despite starting very well over there, he picked up a horrible injury and, even back home, all of our fans were gutted for him.

“He’s always had a great relationship with our supporters, who are no doubt already dreaming of him repeating those famous celebrations on the wall with the Understanders!”

Reds chairman Gerard Lawlor says he can’t wait to see Gormley torture defences in a Cliftonville jersey again.

“It was a privilege watching him play for us in the past and, like every other supporter, I can’t wait to see him in action again,” said Lawlor.

“As you would expect of a player of his calibre, there was significant interest from elsewhere with a lot of clubs vying to get his name on a contract. Joe’s heart has always been at Solitude, though, and it was clear he was determined to come back and finish what he’d started with us.

“I can barely express how delighted I am to have concluded this deal and, though we have to wait until next season until he can play again, it’s wonderful to have completed such a significant piece of transfer business for not just a special player, but a great guy who always took immense pride in representing Cliftonville in the local community.”

• Ards have signed Ballymena United striker Matthew Shevlin with Joe McKinney leaving the north Down club for the Sky Blues. United have also agreed financial compensation in order to release McKinney from his contract, which was to run until June.

Meanwhile, Warrenpoint Town boss Matthew Tipton has signed Anto Reilly, Philly Donnelly and Curtis Dempster.

Reilly joins from Dundalk while Donnelly was at Armagh City and can play just behind a striker or on the wing. Dempster was at Ballymena Intermediate League side Brantwood.

• Long-serving Ronnie Stinson has resigned as a director at Portadown.

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