Cliftonville's sights set on treble
If you were in north Belfast last night and are wondering what the strange noise was at bang on midnight then wonder no more.
The Belfast Telegraph can reveal that it was the sound of Cliftonville manager Tommy Breslin celebrating the closure of the January transfer window.
An expression of joy was followed by a loud sigh of relief as Breslin began to relax now that he is certain that his big players are staying at the club to help the pursuit of the Danske Bank Premiership title and Irish Cup.
Conor Devlin’s safe hands are staying at Solitude, goalscorer Joe Gormley is going nowhere and Liam Boyce won’t be taking his wacky goal celebrations to pastures new this side of the summer at least.
Boyce has been linked with a handful of clubs in the English Championship, while Gormley has attracted interest too.
Devlin has excelled in his first season in the Irish League and it would be no surprise if the former Manchester United trainee heads back to England at some stage in the not too distant future.
Interested clubs will have to wait though if they want to get their hands on any of Breslin’s stars and together with winning the IRN-BRU League Cup last weekend and a nine point lead at the top of the league, that has put a smile on the Solitude chief’s face that will be hard to erase.
“Nobody will be leaving now and we can focus on the job that we have to do between now and the end of the season,” said Breslin.
“If something happens further down the line that is right for a certain player and right for the club then we won’t stand in anybody’s way, but I am delighted that everyone is staying with us.
“We do have players who have ambitions to play full-time football and that is good because they know that to get there they will have to be playing well for Cliftonville.”
The Reds looked like giving Linfield a real run for their money in the title race last season when they went on a 10-match winning run, losing just twice in 17 games.
Teenage scoring sensation Rory Donnelly was instrumental in a lot of that success. And there is little doubt that his New Year departure to Swansea City last season was to the detriment of Cliftonville, who ended up finishing third.
“It wasn’t so much that Rory Donnelly leaving affected us, before he left we were unsettled by everything that was going on around him,” said Breslin.
“He didn’t play in a couple of games before Christmas, on Boxing Day and in early January before he moved to Swansea he was on the bench and that affected the team.
“I looked after him because I didn’t want him to pick up an injury that would jeopardise any move or money for the club.
“We can’t turn the clock back and nobody will ever know how different things would have been if Rory had stayed, but I have no doubt that we would have done better both in the league and the Irish Cup if he’d stayed.”
Already Cliftonville’s record this season is superior to last term. Donnelly did help them win the County Antrim Shield a few weeks before he swapped north Belfast for south Wales, but this time they have one of the three big prizes on the sideboard after beating local rivals Crusaders 4-0 in the League Cup decider.
And that could have a big impact on their pursuit of the major trophies between now and the end of the season.
“The one thing that winning the League Cup will do is give the players belief,” said Breslin.
“We’ve been praised for the football we’ve played for five or six years now and flirted with silverware, but now the players will have the belief that playing the way we do can win them trophies and there is no need to change anything.
“There is no point denying that we are in a great position in the league, but we need to push on.
“We play Distillery on Saturday, it’s top against bottom and for some people it’s a no-brainer, we’re certain to win comfortably, but football isn’t like that.
“Queens Park Rangers are bottom of the Premier League in England, yet they went and beat Chelsea and drew with Tottenham and Manchester City who are all in the top four.
“Teams in our league are fighting for their lives at the bottom, fighting to get into the top six.”
He added: “I’ve told the players that I want them to win more than the League Cup this season and I’ll be telling them again before Saturday.”