Belfast Telegraph

Barry Gray: Cliftonville are in better place now than when I took the job

 

Barry Gray when he was unveiled as Cliftonville boss
Barry Gray when he was unveiled as Cliftonville boss
Barry Gray at his last game in charge at Dungannon on Saturday

By Steven Beacom

Barry Gray has revealed that he has no regrets about how he handled life as Cliftonville's manager but he has apologised to the fans, players and board for not bringing the club the success he felt could be achieved under his guidance.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Gray opened up about his turbulent 20-month spell in charge at Solitude; from the off-field distractions and results on the pitch to abuse he suffered from angry fans and what the future holds for him.

Gray was sacked on Saturday following a 3-1 league defeat at Dungannon Swifts. It was the team's sixth loss in seven games - a terrible run which saw them knocked out of title contention and the Irish Cup, meaning their chances of silverware were over in January.

Michael Press, previously in charge of Cliftonville Olympic, has taken over on a temporary basis and will be boss for Saturday's home league game against Glenavon. He will be assisted by former Reds players Barry Johnston and Marc Smyth, who were already in the backroom set-up.

Chairman Gerard Lawlor and the board know they are under pressure to recruit a new long-term manager who can bring the glory days back to Solitude.

For ex-Warrenpoint Town boss Gray it is a time to reflect, believing he has left the Reds in a better position than he found them.

"I don't have any regrets or ifs and buts about if we had done this or done that," stated Gray, who in his first season led Cliftonville to the Irish Cup final, where they lost to Coleraine, and into Europe.

"I'm still very confident in my own ability as a manager and as a person and that won't change regardless of what the tail end of my time at Cliftonville was like.

"The job was massive and I dealt with lots of things on and off the pitch. Whether people think it or not, they are in a better position now than they were 20 months ago.

"Given what we have seen this season, you might ask yourself if last season was a complete over achievement. I'm proud of what we did then. It would have been nicer to win the Irish Cup but such is life."

Those off-the-pitch issues included the anthem controversy at the Irish Cup final and the ongoing Jay Donnelly case.

"As a manager you have to deal with the distractions of what might happen away from football. You try to limit distractions and focus as much as you can on football," said Gray.

"You try and support people the best you can and try and back your players the best you can and sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn't.

"The reality of it is that off-field issues and what people individually do away from football aren't in my control as a manager. The vast majority of it was inherited by me and weren't episodes that happened under my management.

"I don't want to go into detail about that end of things. For me I fully accept responsibility for results and can only apologise to Cliftonville players, fans and the board that I wasn't able to deliver what I thought I could. Results this season just didn't stack up - it's as simple as that.

"Once the final whistle went on Saturday I knew the situation that was at hand. Gerard (Lawlor) and myself would be quite tight and we had a brief discussion.

"At the end of the day it was not working for me with that group of players for whatever reason. You can't look past that. There have been ups but there have been too many downs and performance levels have been poor.

"That's not to blame players but I hope whoever comes in short-term or long-term can get more out of the group than I was able to do."

Gray suffered serious verbal abuse from Cliftonville fans in recent weeks, most notably after an Irish Cup exit to Dungannon at Solitude.

He said: "Nobody likes to take criticism, especially in public, but I have to say that the fans at Cliftonville are brilliant because they are so passionate.

"I don't hold any grudges against the fans for having gripes against me because I'm responsible for the team and performances.

"It's not personal for me.

"The fans support Cliftonville and have supported me massively over a period of time. You can't forget that and I'd thank them for that as well as the vast majority of the players.

"I hope to go back to Solitude and be able to watch games for years to come and not be in a situation where I'm sitting in a lion's den. I have given it my best go and no hard feelings. Some of the people I have met at Cliftonville will be friends for life.

"On Saturday evening I opened the door and my kids were hugging and kissing me the same way they do any week so it doesn't matter if you are manager of Cliftonville or not to them. That's not a mark of success or how important you are in our house!"

On his future, Gray, a highly successful businessman, said: "My balloon is not busted. We will move on and go again and if that's inside football then great and if it's not so be it. I'm not relying on management in any way, though I love football so we'll see."

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