I will make Cliftonville champions again, vows new boss Gray
Barry Gray took over as Cliftonville boss last night, insisting he is determined to steer the Reds to the big prizes again, including the Danske Bank Premiership title.
The Reds won back to back championships under Tommy Breslin in 2013 and 2014 but since then Crusaders bagged two in a row and Linfield lifted the Gibson Cup last month for the first time in five years.
Cliftonville have missed out on a Europa League qualifying spot at the end of a disappointing season in which they finished fifth in the league and after Gerard Lyttle's surprise exit to Sligo Rovers, Breslin stepped in as interim boss but now former Warrenpoint Town chief Gray has been handed the challenge of leading a red revival.
"Cliftonville are one of the top clubs in the country," said the 37-year-old. "The bare minimum is that every season they should be challenging for every trophy.
"Any player that plays for me next season will want to win the league. If they don't they won't play for me. It's as simple as that and that's the drive that comes from the board and myself."
Gray added: “If the players don’t share that drive they won’t last very long in a Cliftonville jersey.
“It’s my job description to be successful on the pitch while the board focuses on off-field matters and that’s a massive motivation for me, knowing the expectation levels are bigger. That’s why I’m here, that’s what I want.”
Gray, who will be assisted by Harry Fay and coach Stephen Small, has agreed a rolling contract.
His achievement in lifting Warrenpoint Town from junior football to the Premiership was a fairytale story and now Reds fans are hoping Gray can mastermind another miracle in north belfast.
“It’s hard to shy away from underachievement in today’s society but that’s what it has been,” said Gray who quit as Town boss last November.
“With the panel of players the club has it has underachieved. They have been fragile in certain situations but the boys will have a break and refocus.
“The new regime will be very different. The players will need to impress me to play or struggle on somewhere else.
“I’ve watched the last few games and I’m conscious your opinion can change after working with the players.
“This season has been a tough one for Cliftonville, it hasn’t reached the expectations they should be reaching but we have an opportunity to re-establish that bond with the players and understanding of why they want to play for Cliftonville.
“We need the right recruitment drive and will improve in the right areas. The formation Cliftonville have been using this season I wouldn’t be massively sold on. When we work with the players we will gel them into a system we want to play.
“There won’t be big changes. If I was manager here last season we would have a lot of our groundwork done at this stage and announcing deals.
“What we won’t be doing is signing players just for the sake of it.
“If the player is right for us from a football perspective then we will consider it in terms of the budget. Changing for the sake of changing isn’t something we will do.”
Fay, who was Gray’s assistant at Town, added: “Barry was wet behind the ears in Irish League terms when he contacted me four years ago about going to Warrenpoint after they had just come into the Premiership.
“What really stood out was his drive, he’s a successful businessman, he wants to be a winner and that rubs off on people.
“He knows the league inside out and we want to give Cliftonville their identity back. They are lacking something and we want to give it back to them.”
Reds chairman Gerard Lawlor said he was delighted to secure the services of someone who was a “long-term target” of the club.
“We are delighted to welcome Barry to Cliftonville, he has been a long-term target of ours,” he said. “I always monitored his progress and I admired his hunger, desire and commitment to a club, something which Cliftonville stands for.
“He will bring a professionalism to the game and to the club.
“He will have the respect of the players and, without being disrespectful to any former managers, he will bring a discipline which has unfortunately been missing.”
• Richard Clarke has agreed a two-year deal with Ballinamallard United after leaving Crusaders.