Confirmed: Paddy McLaughlin named new Cliftonville manager bringing two of Institute's backroom staff
Paddy McLaughlin has been officially named Cliftonville's new manager.
The 39-year-old has been confirmed as Barry Gray's successor, bringing with him goalkeeping coach Conleth McCrudden and assistant manager Brian Donaghy, who scored five goals in 53 appearances for the Reds between 1998 and 2000.
The management team will oversee training for the first time tomorrow night before taking charge of Cliftonville's Premiership encounter with Newry City on Saturday.
McLaughlin will be handed a further opportunity to run the rule over his squad when the Reds host Longford Town in a friendly on February 16.
“I’m very pleased to welcome Paddy McLaughlin to Cliftonville and look forward to the team and Club realising their potential under his guidance," said Reds chairman Gerard Lawlor.
“Paddy has won a string of admirers across the Irish League not only for the superb job he has done at Institute, but also the strong leadership qualities he displayed during both his playing career and since moving into coaching and management.
“The Football Club were very happy with the quality and quantity of applicants from across Ireland and beyond and, having narrowed our options down to the candidates interviewed over the weekend, Paddy impressed everyone on the panel with his attention to detail and clear passion for the job.
“As well as thanking everyone who applied for the role, and indeed Michael Press, Marc Smyth and Barry Johnston for the work they have done on an interim basis over the last two weeks, I once again congratulate Paddy on his appointment and am sure our supporters will join me in welcoming him to Ireland’s Oldest Football Club.
“A united Cliftonville is a stronger Cliftonville and I look forward to us all making progress in that spirit.”
There was stiff competition for the top job, McLaughlin fighting off competition from former Derry City chief Kenny Shiels and ex Linfield chief Warren Feeney.
A fourth candidate, Dave Rogers - whose most recent employment was with DSK Shivajians in the Indian I-League - was always an outsider and was, over the weekend, understood to be no longer in contention.
Creggan man McLaughlin picked up plaudits for the manner in which he guided Institute to last year’s Bluefin Sport Championship crown against the backdrop of devastating floods that left the club with neither a home ground nor training facilities.
There is a certain irony to his appointment given it was a 6-4 defeat to Stute just before Christmas that sent the Reds into the tailspin that eventually led to Gray’s departure.
McLaughlin will link up with former Stute midfielders Aaron Harkin and Niall Grace, both of whom joined Cliftonville on transfer deadline day. Harkin had already signed a pre-contract agreement at Solitude before his move was accelerated while Grace arrived on loan from Glenavon, where he has struggled for regular starts since his summer transfer.
If this was Barcelona or Man City it would be shown everywhere, but the build up to @Institute_FC's first goal yesterday was superb. Credit to @paddymac1979, his backroom team & his players at working on & producing this type of football #TR pic.twitter.com/5gf2eBSmIG— Kevin McLaughlin (@kevymac77) December 9, 2018
"The club would like to thank Paddy for his dedication, hard work and achievements as a Stute player and manager. We wish him, Brian and Conleth well in the challenges that lie ahead for them," said an Institute statement that confirmed McLaughlin, Donaghy and McCrudden's departures.
"The club will be consulting with our players over the next few days to reach a concensus on the best way forward."
Reds fans will now no doubt have their eye on Stute's star marksman Michael McCrudden. The 27-year-old is staying at his current club until the end of the season but with his contract set to expire, hopes will be high that McLaughlin can help tempt the league's joint top-scorer to form a deadly strike partnership with Joe Gormley - the only other man to boast 19 Premiership goals this term.
Cliftonville dismissed former boss Barry Gray just minutes after a 3-1 defeat to Dungannon Swifts on January 19 left the team languishing in sixth place in the Danske Bank Premiership.
With their Irish Cup hopes having also been ended by the Swifts a fortnight earlier, Cliftonville's season now rests on securing European qualification through the play-offs - and that will be the first target Lawlor will set for McLaughlin.
Legendary former boss Tommy Breslin, whom many fans had hoped could be enticed back to the club he led to two Premiership titles, was part of the panel that conducted interviews for the role.
Independent advisor Dr Leslie Caul — who acted as chairman of the Irish FA’s Executive Board for five years — was also involved in the process when McLaughlin, Shiels and Feeney were quizzed on Saturday.
Vastly experienced Shiels led Derry City to the EA Sports Cup last season and was at Solitude to cast his eye over the Reds’ 1-1 draw with Glenavon last month.
The 62-year-old boasts arguably the most impressive CV of the three interviewees, having also taken charge of Northern Ireland’s under-17s and Tranmere Rovers’ youth set-up before enjoying Scottish League Cup success with Kilmarnock in 2012.
Ex-Blues chief Feeney has undertaken a managerial role at Newport County as well as acting as Harry Kewell’s assistant at both Crawley Town and Notts County since his stint at Windsor Park and has emerged as a shock candidate for the Cliftonville job, which former reserve team boss Michael Press has held on a caretaker capacity for the last fortnight.
Liverpudlian Rogers has coaching experience in the Netherlands, India and the League of Ireland and the 43-year-old also represented Irish League sides Portadown and Lisburn Distillery during a distinguished playing career.