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‘Anything is possible’: Cliftonville’s heroes of 1998 proved Reds can upset title odds, says Jody Tolan

Former Cliftonville striker would love to see underdogs bite Big Two

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Cliftonville have upset the odds to remain in the title hunt at this stage

Cliftonville have upset the odds to remain in the title hunt at this stage

Jody Tolan (top left) helped Cliftonville to the Premier League crown in 1998

Jody Tolan (top left) helped Cliftonville to the Premier League crown in 1998

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Cliftonville have upset the odds to remain in the title hunt at this stage

Cliftonville Irish League title wins: 1906, 1910, 1998, 2013 and 2014. Will 2022 be added to that list? Despite mixing it at the top of the Danske Bank Premiership all season, Reds boss Paddy McLaughlin has continually played the prospect down.

Understandable really given that Cliftonville are a part-time outfit taking on full-time sides Linfield and Glentoran in the race for glory.

The Blues have been there and done it all under David Healy, while Glentoran’s spending has turned them into a force again but should Cliftonville beat bottom club Warrenpoint Town at Solitude this evening, they will only be one point behind the top two in the table with 10 games left. McLaughlin’s men also have a League Cup final and Irish Cup quarter-final, both against Coleraine, to look forward to.

The last time the north Belfast side won the league was in 2014 when Tommy Breslin’s stylish and solid side retained the title. Prior to that, the Reds were champions in 1998 under Marty Quinn. Striker Jody Tolan scored important goals to help the club to the Gibson Cup and is excited to see his old club challenging once more.

“It is fantastic to see Cliftonville in the title race,” said Tolan.

“Cliftonville are the underdogs but that has always been the case, even when we played and won it in 1998. You always feel with Cliftonville they are fighting against the system.

“I don’t want to get into the politics of football here but there are hurdles that they have had to overcome through the years and this season they are up against two teams in Linfield and Glentoran who are full-time.

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“I think a lot of neutrals will be rooting for Cliftonville in the title race and would hope they win it to prove it is not all about big money and big signings and people behind the clubs. I think it is brilliant for the league what Cliftonville have done this season.”

So can they win it?

Tolan replies: “It is hard to call but, personally speaking, I think the Reds will just fall short because the other two teams in the race have bigger squads and, if I’m being totally honest, player-wise I think Glentoran and Linfield are better.

“With a little bit of luck, though, anything is possible. I know that from our team that won the league title in 1998. No one expected us to be up there at the start of that season and we won it.

“We all know how good and how strong Linfield are under David Healy. They are the benchmark for everyone. Now the Glens are up there too.

"It reminds me of when I played because the Big Two were always the sides to beat with David Jeffrey and Roy Coyle the managers.

“I think the Glens and Blues have a little too much this season and might pull away in the last six weeks of the season. Hopefully I’m wrong.”

Tolan played alongside Reds boss McLaughlin at Coleraine and has been hugely impressed by his old team-mate’s work at Solitude.

“The job that Paddy has done as manager has been excellent. I played with Paddy at Coleraine and he was a quiet fella who kept himself to himself. I never knew that he would go on to be a manager but he has been exceptional for Cliftonville,” said the former striker who scored an Irish Cup final winner for the Bannsiders against clean sweep chasing Glentoran in 2003.

"Year on year, you can see the team improving and they play an attractive style. 

“His signings have been really good. He has made Cliftonville strong at the back and bringing in Jonny Addis, who has been outstanding, was a cracking piece of business. Another one that is unassuming and has impressed me this season is Kris Lowe.

“Up front I believe Cliftonville are as good as anyone in the league. When Joe Gormley is struggling to get into the side that tells you about the ability of the forwards. Ryan Curran has been flying. He is quality and from what I’ve seen of Jamie McDonagh, he has been a revelation.

“Paddy has built a strong squad. When you see that sometimes quality players like Joe and Chris Curran aren’t in the starting XI, that tells you about the competition for places.”

Regardless of whether the Reds seal an unlikely triumph, Tolan says the Cliftonville supporters will be right behind the team.

“As a group of fans, the Red Army really lift you. In my time at the club, with Marty Quinn in charge, you would have run through a brick wall for them. They give you that 10% that you need in games,” says the 44-year-old.

“The Cliftonville players will find the fans will stay with them in this race. That was the case in 1998 and when Tommy Breslin led the Reds to titles in 2013 and 2014.

“At the start of the season, people were talking about Larne as title contenders after they did well in Europe, the Glens because of all their signings and the Blues because they are always up there so for Cliftonville to be challenging at this stage of the season is a credit to Paddy, the players, the supporters and everyone affiliated to the club. It’s been a super season so far and I’m sure they will want to finish it on a high.”


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