Belfast Telegraph

Cliftonville: Title was won the hard way

By Graham Luney

There is relief as well as joy in the Cliftonville title celebrations as Barry Johnston admitted his side had to dig very deep to become history makers.

Linfield put up a more ferocious fight than last season but other clubs also queued up to shoot down the champions.

That's why the Reds' sense of achievement is so huge.

The club's first ever two in a row title story was only written after a healthy amount of blood, sweat and tears.

Midfielder Johnston was happy to wave farewell to some of the "fancy football" and arrogance of a year ago.

This time it was all about character, mettle and a hunger to be the best, yet again.

"As big Davy Jeffrey said at the start of the season, it takes a great team to retain the league title and we have done that," said Johnston.

"We are in the history books now and what we have achieved can never be taken way from any of us.

"They are Cliftonville legends and that's it – one to 25.

"At the start of the season we all knew that there was a shot at history and Cliftonville fans now demand and expect success.

"They have had it for a few years but there was also a desire among ourselves and we wanted it as well.

"It was harder this year, without question, but we showed how determined we are as a team to be successful.

"There was probably more fancy football last season but we dug in this time and maybe we weren't pretty but effective in some games.

"It was like that at Portadown – there was little football played, it was about getting the job done and the league in the bag."

Johnston paid tribute to Linfield and the other Premiership sides who made them fight to the death.

"Linfield do deserve a lot of credit – 100% but not just them, all the teams have improved," added the former Coleraine midfielder.

"Portadown and Glenavon have been strong as have Crusaders, but we've done it now.

"The team has improved and for me Chris Curran has been unbelievable.

"The goals he has scored have been so important.

"He took a while to settle in his new surroundings as any new player would and an injury set him back but since he has returned to the team, Chris has been one of the top three players in the league in my eyes.

"Along with Liam Boyce and Darren Murray, those guys have been the standout players in the league this year."

It's very much a mutual appreciation society at Solitude with the players and Reds chief Tommy Breslin exchanging compliments.

Johnston added: "Bressy is Bressy and he never puts pressure on us.

"He deserves all the accolades and praise because he is a lovely fella.

"I can't speak highly enough of him and he's someone who is always there and willing to help each player.

"He doesn't have a bad word to say about anyone, he doesn't shout too much from the dugout, he just lets us play."

Breslin is waiting to see if Liam Boyce can realise his dream of full-time football and his departure will be felt at Solitude.

However, Johnston says the team can still prosper without the Northern Ireland international.

"Boycey is a big part of our team – he creates things as well as scores but we have goals in the side from the wingers and midfielders as well as Joe (Gormley) of course," added Johnston.

"Liam, if he goes, will be replaced by someone just as good and Diarmuid O'Carroll is capable of stepping up for anybody.

"We'll just have to see what happens with Liam but this Cliftonville side will deliver again."

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Meanwhile, the Reds are going yellow – at least on the road next season.

Borussia Dortmund won't be showcasing their talent in the Danske Bank Premiership next season – Cliftonville's new away strip, as modelled by Joe Gormley, will ensure the champions look the part as they aim to inflict more damage.

Before then, the new jersey will be worn on the club's Champions League travels.

Reds fans can get their hands on the new kit next week with adult jerseys at £40, Children's for £30.

Kids can also avail of a full strip (shirt, shorts and socks) for £55 which will come with a complimentary 20% voucher for Official Puma Training Gear if ordered before May 31.

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