Belfast Telegraph

Cliftonville are going for the Irish League title, says boss Barry Gray

By Graham Luney

Cliftonville manager Barry Gray's message is a very simple one - we're going for the title.

In many quarters the Reds will be viewed as dark horses in the Championship race but a quiet confidence can be detected at Solitude.

The north Belfast side were too inconsistent last season to sustain a challenge for the prize they captured in 2013 and 2014.

And Rory Donnelly's early suspension is a headache Gray can do without but there's no questioning the quality the former Warrenpoint Town manager has in his squad.

Joe Gormley is the ultimate match-winner and predator while captain marvel Ryan Catney is back to offer energy and bite in midfield.

And while the spotlight will be firmly fixed on champions Crusaders, Coleraine and even Glenavon, the Solitude aces can slip under the radar and stay in touch with the pacesetters.

It's taken time for Gray to put his managerial stamp on the squad but the getting to know you period is over. The Irish Cup final loss to Coleraine was a bitter pill to swallow but the same painful experience a year earlier lifted the Bannsiders to new heights. So can Cliftonville take inspiration from their rivals in the north west?

The players will be left in no doubt as to what is expected.

"The title is the No.1 target, we are all chasing the same dream," said Gray. "We will think that we can close that gap but so will our title rivals. We won't lower our expectations because we want to challenge for the title. Can we do that? Only time will tell."

So, can Coleraine's title surge and Irish Cup success offer inspiration following a dose of knockout pain?

"I'm not saying we can match what Coleraine have done but last season is gone," added Gray.

"It was a roller-coaster ride, even the ending when we had a low and then finished on a high.

"We were glad to see the back of the season and start again. The search for consistency goes on and you look at Coleraine as being possibly the most consistent team last season. That gives you a chance to win trophies.

"There was about 20 points between the top two and the rest, that's a substantial gap and I go back to the start of our season when we lost seven games in three months.

"Coleraine lost one the entire season and while it was an exceptional run it underlines the importance of consistency.

"Our targets are working hard to be more consistent. We know we have the quality to beat teams but our form was unacceptable in that sense. We have worked hard to address that but the proof will be in the pudding. As soon as the campaign starts we will know what is working."

Like other managers around the league, Gray is intrigued to see how Crusaders' new full-time approach takes shape down the road at Seaview.

"I'm delighted to see Crusaders take on a more full-time approach and I hope it works but in my opinion going full-time doesn't automatically make you 10 points better than everyone else," he added. "If I was trying it with my squad some of them would like to train full-time, some of them wouldn't be able to and they might be your better players who have jobs.

"There's a transitional period to get everyone onto a full-time basis. It takes time to get the right structures in place. Maybe it's more three-quarter-time than full-time. It's great for the league. If it's successful they can drag other teams along. My belief would be that the senior clubs need to do that. It's doable and perhaps more will think about going down that road."

Belfast Telegraph

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