Belfast Telegraph

Cliftonville battle on without Rory Donnelly

By Stuart McKinley

Life without Rory Donnelly has already started for Cliftonville manager Tommy Breslin.

The Reds boss resigned himself to losing his leading goalscorer long before the 19-year-old headed to Swansea yesterday to begin contract talks as Everton and Liverpool also loom large - although neither has made their interest official.

And now Breslin wants the deal done as quickly as possible so that the speculation surrounding the striker is no longer a distraction to his team's Carling Premiership title challenge.

Cliftonville have placed a deadline for interested clubs to either put up or shut up, with offers for Donnelly to be made by Friday and as of last night Swansea City were the only club to agree a fee with the Reds and be given permission to speak to the player.

If talks go well today then the 17-goal hitman may well have already signed for the Swans before Friday, but as far as Breslin is concerned the player is already gone - even if the £100,000 fee that the Reds are expected to pick up hasn't been lodged in the club's bank account just yet.

"The way I see it is unless something dramatic happens Rory will no longer be with us in January and I as manager and the team have got to move on," said Breslin.

"I've asked for the matter to be concluded because it's becoming a distraction to the players and we've put a deadline on the deal.

"It's time to give others an opportunity as well."

While the idea of playing in Liverpool's first-team would obviously be an exciting prospect for Donnelly, fighting his way into a multi-million pound international strikeforce is a difficult task.

Remember it was only in January this year that they splashed out a massive £35m fee to sign Newcastle United striker Andy Carroll just days after spending £23m on Luiz Suarez.

Neither will want to lose their place to a £100,000 teenager.

While Everton's tough financial situation means less competition for places, again they have internationals in the way.

The path into Swansea's first-team isn't as littered with big names as those on Merseyside would be and manager Brendan Rodgers will put the prospect of a swift rise from Carling Premiership to the Premier League when he sits down with Donnelly today.

He will also show the youngster the bigger picture, but with the ultimate dream of playing in the best league in the world.

"Rory is in Swansea for talks. He will be here for the next couple of days so hopefully we can tie up the deal," said Rodgers last night.

"I can only sell the package that is here. It's a great package for any player, youth or senior.

"I know the background of where Rory is from and where he is at in his career, then this will be a brilliant place for him. I'm sure in the couple of days he is here, he will recognise that."

With the speculation surrounding him and droves of scouts flocking to every Cliftonville match over the last month or so to examine his massive potential, it's no surprise that Donnelly's been affected by it all. That was the issue behind Breslin's decision to leave his star man out of Saturday's league meeting with Coleraine - which the Bannsiders won 2-1.

Although he came on as a late substitute Donnelly's arrival on the pitch didn't have the impact that his manager, team-mates and the club's fans were hoping for.

Barring a strange twist of fate that is almost certainly the last time that Donnelly will wear the red of Cliftonville and already Breslin is looking ahead to tomorrow night's clash with Donegal Celtic with other players in mind.

"We're preparing for Wednesday night's game without Rory," said Breslin.

"He is in Swansea and even if nothing is agreed I don't think he would be in the right frame of mind to play.

"I took the decision to leave Rory out of the starting line-up last Saturday, looking back, was that the wrong decision on my part? I think it probably was.

"He is going to different clubs, he's only 19-years-old and I am sure his head is pickled with everything that is going on around him.

"We're also preparing long term without him.

"Even though Rory might still be officially a Cliftonville player next week, if something is agreed we wouldn't take any chances with him.

"It's the rest of his career that we have to think about and there's no point in risking injury by playing for us."

Cliftonville players won't have a long time to dwell on the departure of their star man, Donnelly, as after the DC scrap they will have to gear up for the massive north-Belfast Boxing Day battle with Crusaders at Seaview.

That game has a 2pm kick-off time on Monday.

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