Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport Football European

Curran is relishing shot at Euro glory

By Graham Luney

Chris Curran says he has finally earned the right to fire Cliftonville to European glory.

The winger wrestled with Celtic in last summer's glamorous Champions League battles but the Solitude first leg clash was his debut for the Reds.

Curran had played no part in blasting the Reds to Premiership title success as he had just left Ballinamallard United for the champions in June.

The former Manchester United youngster, who was part of the same youth team at Old Trafford as Cliftonville goalkeeper Conor Devlin, felt he didn't deserve to face Neil Lennon's outfit as he failed to feature in the north-Belfast side's first title win in 15 years.

But his heroics last season – despite a lengthy spell on the sidelines – helped Tommy Breslin's side retain the title and book a return adventure in Europe's premier club competition.

This time the opponents are Hungarian giants Debrecen with the second qualifying round first leg tie at Solitude tonight (7.45pm).

Debrecen, who won their seventh league title last season, reached the group stages in 2009 and are a formidable force.

The Reds will fight against the odds again but at least Curran now has a sense of belonging in the home dressing room.

"I was involved in the Celtic games last summer but I had only just joined the club," he said.

"I didn't do a lot to deserve to play against Celtic. I had played no part in helping the club finish as champions so I didn't feel I deserved to be on that stage.

"This time I feel like I am where I belong and I just want to enjoy the matches. I've come a long way since making my debut for Cliftonville in the Champions League and it's great to be back on this stage.

"I was happy with the European draw. Some people were looking for the glamour tie with Celtic again but it's going to be a very competitive fixture against a top full-time club.

"They have dominated the Hungarian League for a decade and there's no doubt it's going to be a huge challenge for us. It's a great way to start the season."

Breslin, like the rest of the Red Army, fancied another crack at Celtic but there is also some relief that he isn't having to deal with the intense spotlight that comes with such a high profile fixture and the associated demands.

"Probably the Latvian side Ventspils would have offered us the best chance of getting through but we always knew we faced tough matches regardless," said the Solitude supremo.

"I have looked at Debrecen and they have been league champions for a number of years while Hungarian football is on the up.

"All we can do is perform as well as we can. The Celtic game was eventful because all the players wanted to play in it but from the community perspective it was good PR for the club, a massive crowd and big occasion but that is gone now.

"This is a real match and you have to believe they will be targeting a spot in the group stages.

"One glimmer of light is that they may not travel well and hopefully we can exploit that at Solitude.

"At home they are strong but hopefully we can catch them cold but there's no doubt it's a massive challenge against full-time opponents.

"We could look again at our shape if we have something to fight for in the second leg and hopefully that's the case."

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph