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Cliftonville manager Tommy Breslin loving title run-in


Happy boss: Tommy Breslin  has the biggest smile in the final week

Happy boss: Tommy Breslin has the biggest smile in the final week

Happy boss: Tommy Breslin has the biggest smile in the final week

One week, two teams, three matches each and at the end somebody will be presented with the Gibson Cup.

After fighting it out since mid-August that's what it has come down to.

Either Cliftonville, who currently top the table, will successfully retain the title they won last season – becoming only the fifth club in Irish League history to do so – or Linfield, Northern Ireland's most successful club who are in second place, will notch their 52nd league crown.

It is so late in the season and the gap at the top is so small – just a single point – that a slip up from either of the contenders could gift-wrap the title for their rivals.

The pressure must be unbearable for those involved.

Not so, however, according to Cliftonville manager Tommy Breslin.

He's the boss with the biggest smile. Given that his team were Premiership champions last season and have walked off with the League Cup twice in the last two years that's understandable.

Breslin's team, however, plays with that same smile on their faces and with the confidence and swagger with which they go about their business it certainly doesn't look like they are feeling the strain of chasing another title, or any weight of expectation that might be coming from the fans inside Solitude.

And even though the noises coming out of Linfield suggest that the pressure is on the Reds, Breslin simply laughs that off.

"There is no pressure on our players, either from me, the coaching staff or the club," said Breslin, ahead of today's meeting with Glenavon at Solitude.

"All they are interested in is playing football, it's a game, it's there to be enjoyed and that's what we are all doing.

"Over the last year we have won the league, we had a great adventure in Europe, when we played against Celtic – and that will probably never be repeated.

"We have won a trophy this season, we're top of the league again and in with a great chance of retaining it. If you can't enjoy all that there's something wrong and we are relishing all of it.

"We have three games to go and if we win them all we will win the league.

"We have to embrace that and look forward to the challenge rather than being afraid of it or feeling under pressure.

"The boys have played very well, they know the position we are in and hopefully now they can go on and see the job through."

The Reds have been on an amazing run, taking 25 points out of the last 27 available since the beginning of February.

That's after dropping 20 points between the end of August and early November!

Even if they picked up half of those the league would already be over – like it was a year ago.

"We're in a different situation this time around and it's a different kind of test for the players," said Breslin.

"I have to give credit to them for what they have done already, the character that they have shown to get to where we are because at one stage Linfield were eight points ahead of us.

"We have won our games and that has helped us chip away at that gradually, closing the gap by one point, two points and then getting three against them a few weeks ago.

"When we had our dip earlier in the season and people were questioning whether we had the mettle to retain a title I would have taken the situation that we are in now – three games to go, one point clear at the top and our destiny in our own hands.

"We may well need to win the three games though because Linfield will keep fighting and there are no easy matches."

And that includes next Saturday's north-Belfast derby against Crusaders – even though Linfield manager David Jeffrey claimed after their victory at Seaview last Saturday that members of the Crues team told his players they would lie down to allow Cliftonville to win the league.

"I don't think any team in this league would lie down," said Breslin.

"If it's ever happened before then I certainly haven't come across it.

"The league isn't won in one game though. The season lasts 38 matches and it's whoever does best over that who comes out on top and that's what we are focused on.

"As far as opposition teams go, every manager has the right to pick whatever team he wants for a particular game.

"We go to Crusaders next Saturday and Linfield go to Glenavon – who are in the Irish Cup final.

"Gary Hamilton can pick whatever team he wants and in his position I would be doing what's best for my club.

"Nobody complained when the team he picked a few weeks ago beat Glentoran 4-0."

Belfast Telegraph