Belfast Telegraph

Comment: How McLaughlin's Institute reign proves anything's possible at Cliftonville

Cliftonville's new manager Paddy McLaughlin.
Cliftonville's new manager Paddy McLaughlin.
New challenge: Paddy McLaughlin is unveiled as Cliftonville boss by chairman Gerard Lawlor

By Steven Beacom

There's a saying in football about incoming managers having a honeymoon period. New Cliftonville boss Paddy McLaughlin knows more about that than most, and so too does his supportive wife Helen!

If Cliftonville fans are interested in McLaughlin's commitment to the task, this story will give them an idea about the type of guy taking the Solitude reins.

Two years ago while McLaughlin was on his stag do, he was informed that his friend Kevin Deery was leaving the Institute hotseat. On his return home, the former Derry City and Coleraine defender was offered the chance to jump from being Deery's assistant into the lead role at the club. He accepted and then spoke to Helen about cutting their honeymoon short in order to be back to take pre-season training!

"I told Helen that we had to cut our honeymoon short because pre-season training was starting. Let's just say I'm a lucky man to have such an understanding wife," explained the 39-year-old.

McLaughlin's first full season as boss of Institute, who he had previously captained to top-flight promotion, was extraordinary.

In August, a few weeks into the Championship campaign, devastating floods wrecked the Riverside stadium. The club could have gone under but McLaughlin, backed by Institute chairman Bill Anderson and his board, ensured the team would swim not sink.

They played the remainder of their home games at Wilton Park in Londonderry's Waterside and surged to a thrilling title success, producing some sensational stuff along the way. McLaughlin's impact had been as immediate as it had been inspirational.

Institute were supposed to be relegation candidates this term but yesterday McLaughlin left them in seventh place in the Danske Bank Premiership and looking out of danger with 12 games to go.

Playing their home fixtures at Derry City's Brandywell, Institute have lit up the Irish League with an entertaining brand of football that has become McLaughlin's trademark. It's all about passing, moving and finding space for your team-mates.

There are times when Institute have kept hold of the ball for minutes on end, with ace marksman Michael McCrudden ready to take advantage of defence-splitting passages of play.

That's the football McLaughlin will want to develop at Cliftonville. Shrewdly he has brought backroom staff Brian Donaghy, a former Solitude favourite, and Conleth McCrudden with him.

They know his philosophy. The Cliftonville players are next in line.

This has been one of the most testing seasons in the north Belfast club's long and proud history, with off the field issues hurting the Reds even more than poor results on it.

Previous boss Barry Gray paid for the latter, leading to this opportunity for another straight talker in McLaughlin who beat off some serious competition in Warren Feeney and Kenny Shiels to be handed the job.

The man from the Creggan in Derry, who starts his Pro Licence in the summer, will relish the challenge. Cliftonville supporters can expect him to give every last drop of himself to make it work. As well as adopting a possession based style, McLaughlin won't be afraid to blood youngsters.

Despite a desperately disappointing season so far, the Reds still have a shot at making Europe through the play-offs. If the players take to the new manager's ideas and bond together like the best Cliftonville sides have done in the past, the talent is there to achieve that aim and the much-needed finance that goes with it.

With McLaughlin, as he showed at Institute, don't rule anything out.

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