Cliftonville's European hero Ciaran Caldwell has barely had time to savour the enormity of the Reds' achievement on Thursday night but is already looking forward to getting back into action this afternoon.
Less than 48 hours after their historic victory over HNK Cibalia, Cliftonville tackle FC United of Manchester for the Ladbrokes Supporters' Cup (Donegal Celtic Park, 3pm) which, according to Caldwell, is perfect preparation ahead of their game in Croatia next Thursday night.
“We've had a decent pre-season and, as the European matches approached, our standard of opposition has improved — that's definitely helped us,” says the 20-year-old. “Macclesfield helped us step things up a wee bit last Sunday and I'm sure FC United will give us a good match as well.”
The Reds will be keeping their fingers crossed that this week doesn't mark the end of their international clashes and, with a tantalising showdown with CSKA Sofia dangled in front of them in the next round of the Europa League, Caldwell believes they have the quality to progress.
“Cibalia were a bit defensive-minded in the first leg and we know they're going to come at us much more back at their own place,” he explains. “They know they need to score but, at the same time, if we can get ourselves a goal then they'll be in big trouble. It's going to be much harder than it was at Windsor Park but I definitely think we're good enough to soak up the pressure and hit them on the break.”
The versatile performer, who has played in every position for Cliftonville — including as goalkeeper — since joining from Donegal Celtic less than a year ago, revealed that he and his team-mates were fired up after reading the comments of Cibalia skipper Mario Lucic in Thursday's Belfast Telegraph.
The former Dinamo Zagreb defender dismissed the Reds as a team of hoofers who “won’t look to pass it around on the ground” and Caldwell was happy to let Lucic write Eddie Patterson's team-talk for him.
“It was mentioned,” he says. “He said we were a weak team and that they shouldn't have any trouble against us but anyone who was there will know it was the part-timers who did most of the attacking and we definitely deserved to win.”